A new, kid-friendly comic by Toronto publishers Ad Astra Comix illustrates the tragedy of Inuit sled dogs that were killed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The script was written and edited by Hugh Goldring and the comic was storyboarded and illustrated by Nicole Burton and tells the sad story of the slaughter in beautiful imagery and words. The artists are currently working to have the crowdfunded comic incorporated as part of the Canadian school curriculum as a way to bring this history to a new generation.
Design Federation caught up with Canadian storyteller, poet and, now, comic writer, Hugh Goldring, to discuss this, his latest project, and maybe glean some wisdom on indigenous storytelling that may inspire local artists and writers here in Oz.
What was the inspiration for this project?
Originally conceived as part of a larger series of unheard Canadian histories, ‘Dogs’ took on a life of its own. I had worked as a researcher for the Qikiqtani Truth Commission and was familiar with the story of the dog slaughter. Originally discussed as a satire, we decided it deserved to stand on its own.
Why was it important for you to make this project happen?
The story of the dog slaughter throughout the north is a traumatic one, not only for the Inuit but for all feeling people. The events of the slaughter caused enormous harm to Inuit communities. In spite of this, very few people in southern Canada know the story. We wanted to help make this history accessible to Canadians who might never otherwise encounter it.
Did the vision for the project change during the process?
The comic was originally going to have a somewhat snarky tone but in telling the story, we realized that the facts were stark enough and that attempting to be satirical took away from that seriousness. So we changed it to let the events of the story stand on their own. The text on the final panel was removed to allow the reader to confront the image on their own terms.
Was this a learning curve for you as artists?
Considering that this was our first project together, things went remarkably smoothly. The work proceeded quickly and the end product was everything we could have hoped for. There were a few moments of tension during the creative process. As a historian, I would sometimes take issue with minor details in Nicole’s drawings, forcing Nicole to redo entire panels! Needless to say, we have learned to consult carefully with each other during the scripting stage so that Nicole doesn’t end up drawing the whole thing twice.
What are your creative backgrounds?
I have written poetry, short stories and even an embarrassingly adolescent teen novel when I was 19. Nicole has been drawing for herself since she was a child and has always known she wanted to work as an artist. Both Hugh and Nicole have applied their creative energy to their work as activists since they were teenagers – making posters, writing fundraising appeals and generally doing their best to inspire the people they have organized with.
What has the reception to the project been?
The reception to ‘Dogs’ has been universally positive. We were a little worried how the Inuit community would respond, since the project was undertaken without direct consultation – a mistake we won’t repeat. But the response has been phenomenal! People really connect to the project, which expresses the trauma of the dog slaughter in relatable, human terms. We are very proud of our work and think that for our first joint project, the response has been more than we ever could have hoped for.
Why should this project be in schools in Canada?
Although curricula are beginning to recognize the importance of indigenous narratives, they often place too much emphasis on the positive. Colonialism has been traumatic for most indigenous nations and including materials in the classroom that help students to understand that trauma is absolutely essential to building a Canada where people understand where they come from, as well as where they are going. ‘Dogs’ is short enough to be put on a poster but contains the essential facts necessary to help students learn about and understand the dog slaughter and its impact.
How can people help?
People can help in all kinds of ways! The most immediate thing that anyone can do is order a copy of the posters for themselves by e-mailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The posters retail for $20CAD plus shipping, so be sure to include an address.
Most importantly, everyone can head over to the Qikiqtani Truth Commission’s website and learn more about the experiences of the Inuit.