YAHGULANAAS, Michael Nicoll

Author Tags: Aboriginal Authors, Art, Civil Rights

Artist and author Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas is most widely known as the originator of a new genre of cartoons he calls Haida Manga, or Manhwa, giving rise to his graphic novel, Red: A Haida Manga (D&M, 2009). The hardcover version was nominated for a Bill Duthie Booksellers Choice Award, a Doug Wright Award for Best Book and 2010 Joe Schuster Award for Outstanding Canadian Cartoonist.

Manga is the Japanese word for comics; Mahwa is the Korean word for comics. Yahgulanaas uses the term to establish that his Haida cartoons are positioned somewhere between two continents. Set somewhere off the northwest coast of B.C., Red: A Haida Manga is the story of an orphan named Red and his sister, Jaada, who are captured and taken away when their village is raided. Seething with rage, Red wants to find his sister and take revenge on her captors. A paperback version was released in 2014.

Yahgulanaas subsequently created another graphic novel that retells an ancient Haida tale in his unique mix of Northwest coast art and Japanese comic style. War of the Blink (Locarno $24.95) is about a fisherman caught in a high-stakes game of kidnap and bluff while trying to save his home village from raiders. In a showdown in which one of the sides must blink first, the villagers find a way to save face and their home. Ultimately, it’s a story about finding the courage to choose peace over war.

Yahgulanaas, also a sculptor and graphic artist, has work in the collections of the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Vancouver Art Gallery amongst others. He pulls from 20 years of experience in the Council of the Haida Nation and speaks frequently about social justice and community building.

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas grew up in Masset. His experiences with institutional art training in Vancouver in the late 1970s were brief but eye-opening. He told Kevin Griffin of the Vancouver Sun, "I got into a roaring argument with the instructor. He said that in order for a Haida artist to be authentic, you couldn't use a power saw on a totem pole. You couldn't use commercial paint. That was so offensive to me. I couldn't spend the rest of the year with an instructor who thought like that. That was my experience with a Western art institution."

A great-grandson of Master Artist Charles Edenshaw, he returned to Haida Gwaii and apprenticed on a totem pole project with painter, carver and printmaker Robert Davidson, his elder cousin who introduced him to Haida iconography. He proceeded to mix his own experiences as a Haida with contemporary graphic literature to produce Haida Manga. Yahgulanaas also studied with Cantonese artist Cai Ben Kwon.

Illustrated with his own Haida style cartoons, Yahgulanaas' The Last Voyage of the Black Ship (Western Canada Wilderness, 2002) is a mythical history of a hungry civilization, industrial logging and rainforest ecosystems. The Black Ship is based on one of the world's largest self-loading log barges capable of carrying away 13,000 cubic meters of forest on each trip. A sleeping forest spirit is awoken by a young woman named Pink Gyrri and togeher they save a talking bear and provide a Buddhist solution to the devastation of industrial logging.

Yahgulanaas also adapted a Haida parable about two brothers traveling to and from the Spirit World. Incorporating versions from different dialects in A Tale of Two Shamans (Theytus, 2001), he has included a linguistic analysis of Haida by John Swanton and John Enrico.

As a cartoonist, he has challenged stereotypes in a variety of publications including Tales of Raven Vol. 1 "No Tankers Tanks" 1977; Tales of Raven Vol. 2 "Mutants of the Pit" 1987; Spruceroots magazine 1998-2002; Nonni's Will 2002; Vancouver Special Anthology 2002; What Right! Anthology 2002; MADBURGER, Czech Republic 2002; Redwire 2003, Crank magazine 2003, and Geist 2005.

According to the UBC Museum of Anthropology: "Michael Nicoll, Yahgulanaas, was raised by John Bruce Hageman, Saangaahl laanas sdastaas, and Babs Hageman, Yahjaanaas, in Delkatla, Massett. He is a political 'Arrrtist,' and works professionally seeking solutions to jurisdictional disputes between Colonial and Indigenous governments both here in Canada and internationally...

"Michael was named Yahladaas (White Raven) at a feast given by Emma Matthews, Saanlanaa Yahjaanaas. He was first named Waatchesdaa (Fortunate Twin) by Emily White, 7waahl gidaag Yahjaanaas, at a feast given by Florence Davidson, Jaadrahl Yahjanaas. Michael was also named Simjuuaa by Nellie Yeomans, Srajuugaahl laanaas. He was born a Nicoll with a Red Hawk crest from Uladoon on the north west coast of Scotland; a Yahgulanaas Raven from inside Gowgaaia in the south and the Shark house from Daadans on the mid west coast; and a Twin-finned Orca from the northern coasts of Haida Gwaii at Klinkwan, Alaska. He is a descendant of Charles Edenshaw, Daa xiigang 7idansuu Saanggaahl laanaas sdastaas, and Alfred Adams, Kyaanuusilee, and grandson of Massett 7laanaas au (Town mother/village chief) Oliver Adams, Gaala of Gitaans. Cousin to Jim Hart on the Raven side of the family."

From July to December, 2007, the Museum of Anthropology hosted three of his installations for an exhibit called Travelling the Museum "transforming materials ranging from an entire Pontiac Firefly, to Plymouth and Dynasty car hoods, to archaeology storage trays. In the process, he brings his own brand of humour, narrative and social commentary to jumpstart new debates."

With contributions by Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Yahgulanaas' Flight of the Hummingbird: A Parable for the Environment (Greystone) pre-sold rights to publishers for Australia, New Zealand and Spain. In this pictorial story, adapted from a parable of the Quechuan people of South America, he has presented the hummingbird as a talisman for progressive social and environmental change. This book was nominated for the BC Booksellers' Choice Award in Honour of Bill Duthie. It was repackaged and revised two years later as The Little Hummingbird.

He has also provided illustrations for The Canoe He Called Loo Taas (Benjamin Brown Books, 2010), a children's book by Bill Reid's daughter, Amanda Reid-Stevens.

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas moved to Vancouver in 2002. Yahgulanaas was cited in 2010 as residing "close to the Two Sisters mountains on an island in the Salish Sea." He lives on Bowen Island.


War of the Blink (Locarno 2017) $24.95 9780995994621
The Canoe he Called Loo Taas (Benjamin Brown Books, 2010) $16.99 978-09782-5536-7. Text by Amanda Reid-Stevens.
Red: A Haida Manga (D&M, 2009, 2014)
Flight of the Hummingbird: A Parable for the Environment (Greystone, 2008) $16 978-1-55365-372-1; revised and renamed as The Little Hummingbird (Greystone 2010).
A Tale of Two Shamans (Theytus, 2001)
Last Voyage of the Black Ship (Western Canada Wilderness 2002)
A Lousy Tale (s.p., 2004)


Nicola Levell. The Seriousness of Play: The Art of Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas (London: Black Dog, 2016)

[BCBW 2017]

Nominated for Red: A Haida Manga
BC Book Prizes (2010)

from BC Book Prizes catalogue
Red is the epic tale of a Haida hero, his rage and his quest for retribution. Referencing a classic Haida oral narrative, this full-colour graphic novel documents the story of a leader so blinded by revenge that he leads his community to the brink of war and destruction. Set in the islands off the northwest coast of B.C., it tells the tale of orphan Red and his sister, Jaada. When raiders attack their village, Red, still a boy, escapes dramatically. But Jaada is whisked away. The loss of Jaada breeds a seething anger, and Red sets out to find his sister and exact revenge on her captors. Red blends traditional Haida imagery into a Japanese manga–styled story. Michael Yahgulanaas has exhibited his art throughout Canada. His books include Flight of the Hummingbird, A Tale of Two Shamans, The Last Voyage of the Black Ship and Hachidori, a bestseller in Japan.