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Editor’s Briefing | A number of recent illustrated works have won praise outside the region for their artistic value. Amongst Northerners, the medium appears to be gaining popularity as a way to link past and present

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Editor’s Briefing
After an extended hiatus, The Arctic Journal is reviving its Editor’s Briefing. The briefing itself is a summary of the main points about a current topic, while a list of key reads and resources gives readers a place to begin if they would like to learn more.

Other internet bits and bobs, including Tweets and videos, are occasionally included.

As a way to encourage discussion about the topic, the briefing will also seek to include opinionated commentary. If you would like to suggest a topic for a briefing, or if you would like to provide a comment about a topic, please contact us.

Ever since it was released on May 19, Arctic Comics, a graphic novel compiling stories from Canada’s North (see promtional video below), has been drawing attention to the story-telling traditions of the Inuit and other Northern cultures.

But as much of an impact as the most talked about cultural export from the North right now is having, a part of its strength is that it is, in fact, nothing new (and in more ways than one).

Arctic Comics was originally published in 1986, in connection with the Vancouver world’s fair. All 60,000 copies of the book were given away, with people often spending hours queuing up to get it. A second printing was planned for the 1992 world’s fair, but a missed deadline meant the book fell out of popular consciousness until this month.

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The collection of stories were all produced for the original publication, but, by drawing on traditional story-telling traditions, they have been praised for linking past and present.

In this respect, Arctic Comics joins a growing list of graphic works, both printed and virtual, that serve a dual purpose of reinforcing local culture while at the same time providing people from outside the region with an insight in to Northern life and history.

Amongst the most recent releases is Moose, a graphic novel version of Moose: the Movie, a campy Alaskan horror film featuring a monstrous half-man, half-moose (we said it was campy). The book version, published in November, is illustrated by Lucas Elliott, in collaboration with Chad Carpenter, the creator of Tundra, a comic strip, and while clearly drawing on the strengths of the graphic medium, the book version manages to remain faithful to the humorous spirit of the original.

Like with most good cartoons (think Looney Toons or most modern animated blockbusters), both works can be understood on a number of levels. That means that while there may be subtleties only Alaskans will get, it is also entertaining for outsiders as well.

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In 2014, it was another Alaskan production, this one a video game, that turned the heads of many from outside the region. As a game, Never Alone received solid reviews for its plot and its playability, but just as important locally was the interest the game generated for Iñupiat culture for its use of haunting images, inspired by scrimshaw, or ivory carving (see video below), and its incorporation of traditional legends and the use of community elders in its production.

In Greenland, the cartoon format has also been successfully employed as a method for chronicling the country’s past, starting with the arrival of the first humans in Greenland 4,000 years ago. The First Steps, the first book in the four-volume series, was published in Greenlandic, Danish and English in 2007. It has since been followed by two others. The final book is due out in 2017.

Nuka K Godtfredsen, the illustrator and primary author, has explained the when making the two volumes that depicted Greenland's pre-history, he was able to rely on Greenlandic myths and legends, as well as his imagination. For the later two, which deal with periods for which there is a historical record (European colonisation and Norse settlement), detailed research and consultation with period experts was required to create an accurate depiction. Converting historical fact into a graphic work, however, has still required him to draw on his skills as a storyteller.

Mr Godtfredsen’s efforts have been appreciated enough that in 2012 he was nominated for the Nordic Council of Ministers children’s literature award.

That accolade, and the warm reception Arctic Comics and the other recent releases have received, adds weight to the argument put forth by Jim Bell, the editor of Nunatsiaq News, a Nunavut newspaper, in a 2002 editorial, in which he suggested that the territory’s translators should be tasked with translating more pop culture works and fewer official documents.

“Wouldn’t it be more socially useful [...] to have Nunavut’s talented language workers expend at least part of their energies on producing stuff that people actually want to read? Besides, you’re likely to find more wisdom and common sense within the pages of a single comic book than in a hundred government reports.”

A novel idea.


Arctic Comics Trailer from Renegade Arts Entertainment on Vimeo.

Photo: Renegade Arts & Entertainment