arctic comics

Arctic Comics: Tales of Humour, Tragedy, Vengeance & Inuit Culture from Northern Canada [Review]

Available now from Renegade Arts Entertainment, Nicholas Burns, George Freeman, Michael Kusugak, Susan Thurston Shirley, Jose Kusugak and Germaine Arnaktauyok, comes the anthology hardcover collection – Arctic Comics.

The book contains five tales of myth, adventure, and humour told at the top of the world, written and drawn by Inuit and northern Canadian comic creators. 

#1 Kiviuq versus Big Bee: The late, Kivalliq Inuit Association President Jose Kusugak and noted Inuit printmaker and acclaimed graphic artist Germaine Arnaktauyok recount one of many magical adventures of Kiviuq, the ‘first man’ of Inuit legend.

#2 On Waiting: Award-winning children’s author Michael Arvaarluq Kusugak muses poetically on seals, the northern lights, and his past in On Waiting, a story beautifully illustrated by watercolourist Susan Thurston Shirley.

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#3 Blizzard House: Nicholas Burns teams up with George (Captain Canuck) Freeman to present Blizzard House. In this science fiction adventure, a teenage couple is trapped between futuristic visions of arctic housing that are doing battle around them.

#4 The Great Slo-Pitch Massacre: Despite its title, The Great Slo-Pitch Massacre is a humourous tale of young love gone wrong during a municipal slo-pitch tournament. Yes, slo-pitch — sport of beer leagues across North America—is played in the Arctic. Written and drawn by Nicholas Burns.

#5 Film Nord: Nicholas has also created Film Nord, a farcical detective story starring an Inuk RCMP officer. When someone is murdered while making a movie on the tundra, Constable Puqittuq and her loyal dog must solve the bizarre crime.

arctic comics

Review

Originally slated to arrive in 1992 during an Expo in Seville, Spain, Arctic Comics wound up shelved indefinitely with writer and mastermind behind the project Nicholas Burns never really thinking much of the project until 25 years later. Renegade Arts Entertainment, under the leadership of EIC Alexander Finbow isn’t afraid to take risks so they decided to breathe life into the long-forgotten book and re-introduce Canadians to Arctic Comics.

Focusing on The Northwest Territories and Inuit culture, the book utilizes several artists and writers who were born or lived in the great Canadian North. After blasting through the 80-page anthology I’m blown away by how bizarre, fascinating and humorous these short stories are. I live in Alberta and I’ve NEVER travelled to the Northwest Territories, so I knew next to nothing about the culture in that area. This is a huge part of the reason Burns wanted to tackle this project to begin with – and he did so back in 1986 with a series of stories at an Expo in Vancouver. This current incarnation is the follow-up to that one and it’s crazy to me that they had the guts to go for broke on something that old in 2016.

Thirty years after amazing and entertaining audiences at Expo 86, "Arctic Comics" with its mythological heroes, tall tales and meditations on what it means to be Inuit is back. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-McNally Robinson Books

I do feel that maybe some of the story details are a tad dated, but it’s also cool to have this retro vibe when it comes to the futuristic view of the Arctic in the short Blizzard House. There’s a video communication system where people walk up to them and call their loved ones in these FaceTime phone-booths- and this was something Burns was writing about in the early 90’s. Also – there’s this weird drug tablet thing that a chick straps to her arm to get high. It blows my mind. Is that real? Did Burns make that up or am I missing something here – is there actually a drug like that? I loved these little odd additions to the story and it definitely makes Arctic Tales stand out from the rest of the indie comics on the market.

I had some issues though and I will be honest when I say I didn’t get the whole eyelids thing in the Big Bee story. It looked…. strange when drawn out and you get a dose of that on the cover of the book with Big Bee herself looking terrifying for everyone to see. She’s essentially a witch who eats people, cuts off their eyelids and her own eyelids at one point to eat those too. I’d probably hack my own eyelids off too if they looked as freakishly floppy as they do here. But — that’s also part of the first story of man – this is a sacred tale in Inuit culture. I mean – it seems to me like it might be the MOST sacred of all Northern legends. So it’s fascinating to me to see it translated in picture-form, but it’s also jarring too.

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Other strange moments include ghosts (deceased loved ones living within the Northern Lights) kicking a severed walrus head around and using it as a soccer ball. These unique and seemingly silly legends are so bizarre, but I also love it because I’m learning something vital about Inuit culture and their belief system in the pages of Arctic Comics. Their connections to the land, the animals, to nature and one another is on another level and when you think about it – their tales are no more odd than the ancient Greek stories of adventure which feature a constant mix of violence and human/animal hybrids.

My favorite story was the Slo-Pitch Massacre because there was a terrific and dramatic set-up but — more importantly, a stunning conclusion that although may seem like it comes from out of nowhere – it really isn’t. Try living in Canada and dealing with how drastic weather shifts truly can be… This isn’t so far fetched. George Freeman’s art in Blizzard House trumps everything else here as well but that’s to be expected from the man who illustrated Captain Canuck.

film-nord

Arctic Comics was so strange, so different than anything else I’ve read in quite some time that it’s hard to recommend it to my friends because you have to really have an open mind when it comes to this eclectic of a collection. There is absurd adult humour (see penguins wearing crotchless panties) and then there’s tragedy and tales of vengeance too. I can’t let my kids read this and they are 5 and 6 years old, because I don’t want them reading about a film director trying to molest a young actress, but I would also love for them to learn about Inuit culture too… So you really have to pace yourself and read these various stories accordingly.

I find that due to the diversity of this collection that finding one audience of readers will prove to be a difficult task for Renegade Arts Entertainment, but I also applaud them for taking the risk. More comic companies should be willing to go the distance and take a shot, because collections like Arctic Comics really should have their chance to be seen and read – otherwise the world will never discover such fascinating and truly unique works such as this.

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