Book brings message through talent

Photo courtesy of Steven Lee/SSDEC Richard Van Camp, right, presents his latest graphic novel Three Feathers to students at Harry Camsell School last week.

Photo courtesy of Steven Lee/SSDEC
Richard Van Camp, right, presents his latest graphic novel Three Feathers to students at Harry Camsell School last week.

Richard Van Camp is on the hunt for the next great illustrator from the South Slave, offering a book deal for his next graphic novel as a prize for the winner.

“I started reading comic books as a kid. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be a writer,” he told The Hub last week after the official launch of his latest graphic novel, Three Feathers.

“I think there’s a place for them. The world has time for graphic novels but in this busy world, maybe not for full books.”

Three Feathers tells the story of three boys who get into trouble and are sent to live on the land with elders for nine months. The story is based on actual events that happened in Fort Smith decades ago, when three young men went to jail after a series of robberies went wrong.

Van Camp said the graphic novel was a chance to explore what might have happened if they had been sentenced differently.

“We’re really quick to send young people to jail,” Van Camp said. “We need to give them the support they need instead.”

While the book was first launched in Fort Smith, the Hay River event held last week at the NWT Centennial Library was special in its own right. The illustrator is Hay River-raised Crystal Mateus.

“It all just came together,” said Van Camp. “Just like Northern magic.”

The next book, set to come out next March in honour of National Aboriginal Languages Day on the 31st, is called Spirit and deals with suicide in the North. Van Camp said he was moved to write it following a string of suicides this past winter in Behchoko, Fort Chipewyan and Lutsel K’e.

“Every time something tragic would happen, I would revisit the story,” he said. “When I showed it to Brent Kaulback, he loved it.”

Kaulback, assistant superintendent for the South Slave Divisional Education Council, said the issue is a timely one, and to get it out by this time next year, they will have to work fast.

To that end, the council is hosting a competition for the next talented artist who will illustrate Spirit.

“They don’t have to be a professional, as long as they are passionate about it and are talented and have the skills. We want them to show us what you got,” he said. “It’s open to both youth and adults — really, anyone who wants to enter.”

Kaulback said the value of a graphic novel, especially in aboriginal languages, is that they can explore heavy issues without being so text-heavy as to be inaccessible. Three Feathers has already been published in Cree and English, and is now being translated into Chipewyan and South Slavey. The team has also submitted a proposal to the GNWT to see Spirit translated into all 11 official languages.

“I’m really grateful to be working in the genre that gave me the confidence to be a reader and writer,” said Van Camp. “It was a lot of work. I’m grateful to the translators and everyone who worked on it. But it all came together and it makes so much sense when you hold the finished book in your hand.”

–Sarah Ladik