If you’ve ever seen a copy of the Dakwäkãda Warriors on a store shelf, it’s because illustrator Cole Pauls dropped it off there himself.
The Tahltan artist from Haines Junction, who now lives in Vancouver, self-published the three-part comic series, which follows the stories of two warriors, Ts’ür’i and Aghay (Raven and Wolf, respectively), as they battle against nemeses Cyber Nà’į and Space Kwäday Dän.
A hybrid work combining elements of Southern Tutchone culture and science-fiction with a not-so-subtle critique of colonialism, Dakwäkãda Warriors has also received acclaim for its language-revival effort, with Pauls seamlessly weaving Southern Tutchone vocabulary into the comic’s story line.
Soon, though, fans of hand-drawn comics and people hoping to brush up on their Southern Tutchone will no longer have to buy the trilogy in separate parts, nor will Pauls have to print, trim, fold and hand-deliver zines to bookstores.
Dakwäkãda Warriors will soon be released as a book featuring all three parts plus a bonus auto-biographical section, published by Conundrum Press, with the world premier set to take place in Haines Junction at the Da Kų Cultural Centre on Oct. 4.
Book launch and artist talk events are scheduled to take place in Whitehorse and Dawson City soon after, followed by stops in British Columbia as well as Portland and Seattle before launching on a wider Canadian tour.
“I’m really impressed with the quality of it,” Pauls said in an interview from Vancouver Sept. 26, the same day he received advanced copies of the book.
Pauls said he expects a “good turnout” for the Haines Junction premiere, which will feature “a huge potluck” and performance by the Dakwäkãda Dancers, the namesake of his series and with whom Pauls performed with for the first 17 years of his life.
It was important for Pauls to premier the book in the Yukon, and his home community, he said, because while he drew the comics in Vancouver, it’s “for Yukoners.”
“I made the whole book for Yukon children, essentially,” Pauls said. “I think the way I wrote and designed the book makes it really accessible for anyone … (but) the main demographic I made it for was Yukon children and Yukoners — any age group, really.”
The book is also not just an achievement for himself, he said, but for the community.
“I thought it was really important to start in Junction because that’s where it all began, like, that’s my hometown, the two language preservers I worked with both live in Junction,” he said.
“… I’m super excited because the Dakwäkãda Dancers are actually going to perform during the opening for the Junction, really, so it feels full-circle.”
As for the contents of the book, Pauls said the storyline and art of the comics have remained virtually unchanged, save for one major improvement — instead of having a single page containing all the Southern Tutchone-English translations, translations are now located on the bottom of every page.
The book will also contain a previously-unpublished, eight-page autobiographical comic walking the reader through how the Dakwäkãda Warriors came to be.
“I have an artist talk where I kind of explain everything as if someone had never heard of Southern Tutchone people or even First Nations people, and I think that really helps when I’m outside of my demographic audience just because I kind of have to give people a little history lesson,” he explained.
“I won’t be there for like every book reading or purchase, so I figured (the autobiographical comic) would be a good introduction to why I made things the way I did.”
Besides the larger history, readers will also learn about how the series originally began as just an illustration for a YukomiCon tote-bag, and how Pauls collaborated with two Southern Tutchone language preservers to ensure the translations were correct.
The language, Pauls said, was a vital part of the process.
“It was kind of part of the reason why I made the series … I felt really homesick living in Vancouver and I felt really disconnected from my culture, so when I had the time and the idea to make Dakwäkãda Warriors, it made perfect sense to include the language because I wanted to start relearning myself and have more of a connection back home,” he said.
And while he said he’s by no means fluent in Southern Tutchone, working on Dakwäkãda Warriors has certainly helped improve his vocabulary.
“I mean, from when I started until now, it’s improved quite a bit,” he said. “There’s 110 words in Southern Tutchone in the book and when I started, I probably remembered like 20.”
The Dakwäkãda Warriors book launch, signing and artist talk will take place in Whitehorse on Oct. 5 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Titan Gaming and Collectibles, and in Dawson City on Oct. 11 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org