Books

Cole Pauls wrote an action-packed comic to help preserve Indigenous language

Two Earth Protectors are charged with saving the planet from evil pioneers and cyborg sasquatches in Dakwäkãda Warriors. The comic, which incorporates a blend of English and Southern Tutchone, serves as an allegory for colonialism.
Dakwakada Warriors is a comic by Cole Pauls. (Conundrum Press)

Two Earth Protectors are charged with saving the planet from evil pioneers and cyborg sasquatches in Dakwäkãda Warriors. The comic, which incorporates a blend of English and Southern Tutchone, serves as an allegory for colonialism.

Cole Pauls is a Tahltan comic artist. He created Dakwäkãda Warriors as a language revival initiative. In 2017, it won Broken Pencil Magazine's Best Comic and Best Zine of the Year Award. It's now a full-length graphic novel.

Pauls is shortlisted for the Doug Wright Award for best emerging talent and Dakwäkãda Warriors is shortlisted for the Doug Wright Award for best book for kids.

Pauls talked to CBC Books about creating Dakwäkãda Warriors.

Early start

"I had an uncle who was a professional comic artist and storyboard artist for video games. I was in Grade One when I got to meet him for the first time, and that's when I realized you can become an artist for a job. It was immediately what I wanted to do. 

I focused on wanting to be a comic artist my entire life.

"I pretty much spent my youth just drawing and focusing on the idea of becoming a professional illustrator. I focused on wanting to be a comic artist my entire life."

From tote bag to comic

"Originally I drew the characters for a tote bag illustration for YukomiCon, which is the Yukon comic book convention. They asked me to draw something that was like equally Yukon as it was nerdy. I came up with two characters and when everyone got their tote bags, I got a lot of comments on the artwork. Everyone thought it was a narrative. By the end of the weekend, I'd written my first issue for the book. 

"The first issue is just a bunch of actions. But I liked the characters and I didn't want it to be a bunch of surface storylines. I figured it'd be important to develop each character's backstory. I focused on that in the second and third issues. The second one, I focused on the villains. And the third issue, I focused on the heroes themselves."

An excerpt from Dakwäkãda Warriors by Cole Pauls. (Cole Pauls/Conundrum Press)

Incorporating Southern Tutchone

"The biggest challenge was relearning my language and trying to fully understand it again. When the first issue came out, I emailed Khâsha and Vivian, my two collaborators. I would email them a list of words I wanted translated, but I quickly learned that's not the way to do it. It made a lot more sense to send Khâsha and Vivian the full script, so they're able to translate everything that they could. They could focus on the words that they knew. I spent a lot of time on the first issue asking for words that are very tricky to translate or maybe don't even have a Southern Tutchone word. It was a learning process to figure out how to write and incorporate Southern Tutchone words into the book. 

I wanted to relearn it myself and get connected with my own culture again.

"I wanted to incorporate Tutchone for selfish reasons. I wanted to relearn it myself and get connected with my own culture again. At that point I had been living in Vancouver for like four or five years. I felt disconnected from home and being a part of my own culture, so I wanted to create this project to focus on reconnecting. It helped quite a bit. There were a lot of words I remembered and a lot of words that I had forgotten. My vocabulary is a lot bigger now."

An excerpt from Dakwäkãda Warriors by Cole Pauls. (Cole Pauls/Conundrum Press)

Authentically Yukon

"I threw a lot of myself into these characters, mainly just being a Yukon youth and wanting to have something to do or wanting to have something to look up to. That was another big reason why I created the book — I wanted to write a book that I would have always wanted to read as a kid. One of my primary influences was just the concept of myself reading it as a child.

I had drawn something that was authentically Yukon and authentically me.

"I also thought it was important to incorporate all these other things, like traditional tools and other culturally significant things, like land or objects or structures. By the end of it, I had drawn something that was authentically Yukon and authentically me. I think that's why it's become so successful."

An excerpt from Dakwäkãda Warriors by Cole Pauls. (Cole Pauls/Conundrum Press)

Cole Pauls's comments have been edited for length and clarity. You can see more interviews from the How I Wrote It series here.

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