New Arctic Comics anthology, featuring Inuit stories, launching in Winnipeg

Arctic Comics is an anthology of stories about Arctic Canada, but there is a Winnipeg connection — it was compiled by local artist and writer Nicholas Burns. The book is being launched tonight at McNally Robinson Booksellers.

Winnipeg artist Nicholas Burns teams up with northern artists for book

A story panel from Nicholas Burns's comic Film Nord, which is featured in the new Arctic Comics anthology. (Courtesy of Renegade Arts Entertainment)

Arctic Comics is an anthology of stories about Arctic Canada, but there is a Winnipeg connection — it was compiled by local artist and writer Nicholas Burns.

Burns came up with the idea for Arctic Comics after moving to Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, in 1984 with his wife, Lisa Lugtig. That's where he ended up falling in love with Inuit culture and storytelling.

While life in the North can be difficult at times, Burns wanted the book to show a lighter side of Arctic life. 

"You're up in the Arctic, it's a cross-cultural situation, there's misunderstandings. One way you deal with a lot of adverse situations is you laugh — you got to laugh or you cry," he said.

"So you try to take a more upbeat attitude towards what's going on up there."

Burns penned three stories in the book and enlisted the help of other northern artists, including Michael and Jose Kusugak, Inuit brothers from Repulse Bay, Nunavut,

Here are three stories featured in the book:

On Waiting

Michael Kusugak, the award-winning children's book writer of Baseball Bats for Christmas and Northern Lights: The Soccer Trails, teamed up with illustrator Susan Thurston Shirley to take his poem, On Waiting, and create a comic.
Award-winning author Michael Kusugak teamed up with illustrator Susan Thurston Shirley to create the comic On Waiting. (Courtesy of Renegade Arts Entertainment)

"It's a meditative story that talks about waiting for seals to come up. When I was a little kid, I would go down to the beach with a .22 [calibre rifle] and just lie on the beach, waiting for seals to surface," said Kusugak.

"The tides go up and down and you watch the water and you watch all the little jellyfish, all the seaweed, and kelp, and then your mind starts to wander."

The poem-turned-comic explores an array of topics, including Kusugak's memories of playing soccer on the ice in Rankin Inlet, and the Inuit belief that the northern lights are the souls of the dead playing soccer. 

It's a meditative story that talks about waiting for seals to come up.- Michael Kusugak on his comic

To visually bring Kusugak's story to life, Thurston Shirley took cues from the landscape of the North. The story is told in long horizontal story panels that are meant to emulate the skyline of the Arctic.

"What people don't realize is that panorama is so incredible up there, because [there are] no trees, and it stretches way out … this is captured really well [in the book]," said Kusugak.

Blizzard House

Burns predicts the future of the Arctic in his story Blizzard House, which is a science fiction adventure about the future of how energy is sourced in the North.

George Freeman, the creator of the comic Captain Canuck, is the artist who brought the story to life on the page.
The opening scene of the comic Blizzard House, written by George Freeman and Nicholas Burns. (Courtesy of Renegade Arts Entertainment)

Kiviuq Versus Big Bee

Also included in Arctic Comics is a story called Kiviuq Versus Big Bee, written by the late Inuk politician Jose Kusugak, who is Michael's brother.

Kiviuq is a legendary Inuit shaman who crossed paths with many non-human creatures but was always able to escape unharmed. The story is illustrated by Inuk printmaker Germaine Arnaktauyok.
A snapshot of the comic Kiviuq Versus Big Bee, written by the last Inuk politician Jose Kusugak and illustrated by Germaine Arnaktauyok. (Courtesy of Renegade Arts Entertainment)

Arctic Comics will be launched Wednesday, May 4, at 7:30 p.m. at McNally Robinson Booksellers (1120 Grant Ave.) in Winnipeg.

With files from the CBC's Terry MacLeod