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SAM Creates: Comic Books with Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

Carpe Fin is a very large mural created by Haida artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas on handmade mulberry paper from Japan. The people of the Haida Nation are native to coastal British Columbia and southern Alaska and have occupied Haida Gwaii since time immemorial. Yahgulanaas describes his artwork as “Haida manga,” which combines many artistic and cultural traditions and styles, including Haida formline art, Japanese manga, Pop Art, Chinese brush painting, and graphic novels. 

The artist uses black shapes to outline scenes from the story, which are similar to boxes you’d see in a comic book or graphic novel. The shapes Yahgulanaas uses, like ovoids and u-shapes, are usually used in formline or frameline design, which is the common visual language across Native communities in the Northwest Coastal region. He was inspired in particular by a 19th-century headdress created by his Haida relative, Albert Edward Edenshaw, pictured below. 

The story he tells is inspired by a traditional Haida oral story and the story told by his relatives’ artwork, but set in the world that we live in today. Carpe Fin is about the relationship between humans and the ocean. A sea mammal hunter goes in pursuit of food to feed his starving community and is taken underwater to the realm of a powerful spirit. Carpe Fin makes us think about environmental issues and the connection between humans and nature. Learn more about the history of the Haida Nation.

LOOKING QUESTIONS

Take a minute to look at the artwork and take in everything that you see. Then talk about these questions with a friend or family member.

  • What’s going on in this artwork? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can you find?
  • This panel is just one part of a much larger work of art and was inspired by comic book design. How is it similar to comics that you have seen before? How is it different?
  • Who do you think the characters are in this story? What can you tell about them based on the details you see?
  • Imagine you’re in one part of this painting. What would you see? What would you smell there? What would you hear?

Art Activity: Create a comic to tell your own story.

What You’ll Need!

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Eraser
  • Optional: ruler, markers, colored pencils
  1. Decide on a story: Choose an interesting story that has been told to you by someone you know. Now, think about what that story would be like if it happened today with people you know. When you have an idea for your story and characters, write out the plot: a beginning, middle, and end. 
  2. Divide your paper into three parts, either by folding it or drawing lines using the ruler and a marker. For more of a Haida manga style, try creating three boxes using ovoids or u-shapes instead of squares or rectangles.
  3. Working from right to left or top to bottom (depending on how you use your paper), draw the beginning, middle, and end of your story.
  4. If you like, you can trace your lines in marker and color in your drawings. You can also add words
    to your story (consider using speech bubbles to make it look even more like a comic strip)!
  5. Don’t forget to write your name, authors and
    artists always sign their work! What title will you give this comic?

KEEP LEARNING WITH A STORY

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas also turned Carpe Fin into a book. Buy a copy from SAM. You can read more graphic novels on Hoopla Digital and Comixology. If you’re looking for more new takes on Indigenous stories, read Tales from Big Spirit series by David Alexander Robinson or Trickster by Matt Dembicki online.

Carpe Fin (detail), 2018, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, Haida, b. 1954, watercolor and ink on handmade Japanese paper, 6.5 x 19.7 ft., Seattle Art Museum, Ancient and Native American Art Acquisition Fund, McRae Foundation and Karen Jones, 2018.30, © Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. Sakíi.id (headdress frontlet), ca. 1870, Albert Edward Edenshaw, maple wood, paint, and abalone shell, 6 1/4 x 5 7/8 x 2 1/4 in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.82. Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Art is Not a Noun, It’s a Verb: Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

“The real magic of Carpe Fin is in the space between the object and the observer.”

– Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

Hear from the artist behind the 6 x 19–foot watercolor mural commissioned for SAM. Haida artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas describes Carpe Fin as “Haida manga.” This unique approach developed by Yahgulanaas blends several artistic and cultural traditions, including Haida formline art, Japanese manga, Pop Art, and graphic novels.

Inspired by a traditional Haida oral story, the story is also linked to a 19th-century headdress in SAM’s collection carved by Yahgulanaas’s relative, Albert Edward Edenshaw. Carpe Fin calls attention to issues of environmental degradation and the rupture of the values that honor human-nature interdependence.

We asked SAM staff to reflect on the work and what stood out to them by answering which panel impacted them most. Have you seen the artwork at SAM or read the book? Read some reflections below and share your thoughts with us in the comments!

  • The very center panel—it’s more free form so it draws the eye. It’s the moment when Carpe realizes he’s been left behind on the island. His phases of expression and gesture really struck me.
  • The central panels—frames break down, creative topsy-turvy!
  • The third panel (upper center) for the transition from the human to the underwater world. The contrast of thick, thin, and detailed brushwork make it come alive.
  • The middle panels stand out because of the dynamic between the sea lions and humans. There’s a chaotic structure that reminds me of the circle of life, but it also shows an imbalance.
  • The central panel and how it just seems to come alive and break out of the typical comic book boxes/outlines; the overall image captivates your attention and makes you want to keep looking at the intricate, smaller details.
  • I was most impacted by the panel in which Carpe swims back wearing sewed-up seal skin. There is something about embodying the animal that he had been killing. I wonder how much the message of “you’re killing our women” would have sunk in without this physical experience or if he would have heard it in a different way?
  • I’m most impacted by the panel where the young boys kill a flicker. This senseless, purposeless killing of a living thing in a microcosm of the imbalance and lack of respect for the environment that has created dire circumstances for this community and communities across the globe. The energy that youth are bringing to climate activism lies in contrast to this detail and gives hope for the future. We all need to take responsibility and enact laws and regulations that will ensure the survival of future generations.
  • All of them together

If you value the ways SAM connects art to your life, consider making a donation or becoming a member today!

Images: Carpe Fin (details), 2018, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, Haida, b. 1954, watercolor and ink on handmade Japanese paper, 6.5 x 19.7 ft., Seattle Art Museum, Ancient and Native American Art Acquisition Fund, McRae Foundation and Karen Jones, 2018.30, © Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas.

Muse/News: Arts News from SAM, Seattle, and Beyond

SAM News

JiaYing Grygiel reviews Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect for ParentMap, with tips from curator Patti Junker and education director Regan Pro for how kids and families can enjoy the show.

“Go on a hunt for the sleeping dog, the cows, the tin soldiers on a windowsill and the portrait of Wyeth’s young son, Nicholas. Every picture is filled with characters, strong emotions—and an opportunity to tell a story.”

Art in America profiles artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas and his “Haida manga” style; a short mention announces an upcoming work planned for SAM—stay tuned for more information on that!

“An upcoming mural project for the Seattle Art Museum, titled The Carpenter’s Fin, will extend that aspiration. Scheduled for completion in fall 2018, the watercolor-and-ink mural consists of 108 sections on six panels of mulberry paper and is about twenty feet long.”

Local News

Put down that book for some good news: Seattle is officially a City of Literature. The UNESCO designation means we’ll be able to participate in cultural exchange programs with other cities in the network.

Here’s City Arts on the goals of the Artists of Color Expo & Symposium, featuring two days of speakers, panels, workshops and networking on November 17 and 18. SAM is one of many organizing partners.

Look inside the bag of Seattle Times’ Gabriel Campanario, AKA the Seattle Sketcher, who captures city life in hand-drawn sketches. I see tools…but where’s the snacks?

Inter/National News

“We have entered a new golden age of black painting,” says W Magazine’s Antwaun Sargent, noting the Obamas’ choice of portraitists and the recent prominence of black figurative painting and portraiture.

The New York Times on Kahlil Joseph: Shadow Play at the New Museum, the artist’s first solo exhibition in New York; the film is an “impressionistic collage of Harlem’s past and present.”

Art historian Linda Nochlin passed away this week at age 86; she made her name with the landmark essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” and worked for over six decades.

“I feel that in some sense, all my work is provisional: that is to say, while I believe in it very strongly, I still remain open to what I hear, learn, and experience…Feminist art history—like feminism itself—is a product of give and take, talking and listening.”

And Finally

My, my MetroCard: Some New Yorkers will get a limited-edition Barbara Kruger card the next time they ride the subway. Your move, King Country Metro.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Installation view of Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect at Seattle Art Museum, 2017, photo: Stephanie Fink.