Carpe Fin: Haida art blends with Japanese manga

“Once upon a time this could be a true story,” begins Carpe Fin—a beautiful yet succinct set up for a story that feels both like ancient myth and current events. The Haida manga is a prequel RED, and another example of Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaaslove of blending old with new. 

“Drawing a distinction between ancient wisdom and current events requires us to be the arbitrator of time. The inclination is to divide events into separate, disconnected chambers,” says the artist and writer.

“But it is also possible to see time as a continuous thread— undulating, wrapping around us, pulling this forward, tugging us backwards, compressing and expanding and twisting around exactly like life does.”

In Carpe Fin, Yahgulanaas blends his people’s art with Japanese manga to tell the story of a coastal community in crisis. This fusion of the cultures’ artistic styles is characteristic of Yahgulanaas’ work— a way for him to respect the history of his ancestors’.

 “Japan was a very important place of refuge for Haida sailors seeking respite from the British and Canadian aggressiveness,” Yahgulanaas says. “Haida Manga is a way for me to say thank you for providing refuge for my relatives,”

Set in the near future, a young man named Carpe returns to visit his Bowen Island-esque home, only to find that the community is struggling to recover from both natural and man-made disasters. With all resources for food depleted, the residents must rely on the ferry to bring sustenance to their ailing community.

Carpe and a few locals decide to take matters into their own hands— grabbing a canoe and setting off to hunt sea lions living off the coast. Unfortunately, inexperience paired with nasty weather worked against the group, While most turned back for home, Carpe goes on to encounter things far beyond sea lions. His journey involves gods, demons and a host of sea life. When he returns home, the young man is utterly transformed.  

The complexity of Carpe’s evolution is one of the most moving aspects of Yahgulanaas’ latest work. The character doesn’t simply submit to the directives of the gods and demons, though he’s subject to the will of these great forces.  When they attempt to force a physical change on him, he rejects it, though still lacks to seize total control of his journey.

Yahgulanaas’ blend of Haida and manga-style artwork creates a dynamic, living portrait of the Coast Salish sea. The story and artwork were originally developed as a large totem mural that now hangs in the Seattle Art Museum, with artwork from every page on a panel of the mural.

Multi-faceted storytelling is core to Yahgulanaas’ approach to creation: “It was always my intention that Carpe Fin would be a publication… When I approach a new project, I examine it from different aspects, looking for as many ways as possible for it to express itself.”

With storytelling punctuated by subtle punchlines, Carpe Fin explores deep themes of progress, tradition, community, and what it really means to respect all life.