RICH INTERVIEWS: Nicholas Burns Artist for Sovereign Traces: Not (Just) (An) Other Vol. 1

First Comics News: Your the artist on “An Athabasca Story” how did this come about?

Nicholas Burns: One of the editors contacted me and sent me a copy of Warren’s story. I read it and was very keen to adapt it for the comics medium.

1st: How did you find Warren Cariou’s story to work from to bring to life?

Nicholas: Overall, a very enjoyable experience. It’s such a well-written contemporary fable. I was very concerned about respecting the authorial voice and intent. Much of the story is a conversation between two very different people, so illustrating their conversation in an appropriate manner was a challenge. So was deciding how to physically represent the mythological character of Elder Brother. 

1stUsing your art what characteristics did you try to bring out in Elder Brother?

Nicholas: I tried to represent essence of him, as described in the story and in discussions Warren and I had prior to my starting the adaptation. Elder Brother’s character had to be drawn as a convincing mixture of tenacity, naiveté, dignity, and basic need. 

1st: How does one go about illustrating tar sands?

Nicholas: By doing a lot of research online. Even with all the available reference, the sheer scale and consequences of tar sands exploitation are still difficult to grasp and represent in a 10-page story. That scope of human folly dwarfs comprehension.

1st: Have you ever drawn heavy machinery before and what was the hardest and easiest part of it?

 I’ve drawn all sorts of vehicles before but, other than space ships, nothing the size and scale of the trucks and shovels in “An Athabasca Story”. The hardest part was working out the staging between the giant vehicle with the driver in it and one small man: Elder Brother. The easiest part was seeing the truck as a metaphor for Colonialism.

1st: What is the most important thing to keep in mind when illustrating a comic?

Nicholas: There isn’t one thing; comics require a great many interrelated elements to work together. Creating a comic story is “an endless conga line of problems”, to quote Greg Theakson.

1st: Would you like to do more comics?

Nicholas: Yes!

1stDo you believe comics can be used to educate?

 Yes. Many of the comics I’ve created over the years were specifically designed to educate. When done well, stories can entertain and educate readers at the same time. I believe this is the original function of storytelling. 

1st: What did you learn working on “Arctic Comics”?

Nicholas: It was a wonderful experience creatively and culturally. Living in the arctic for nine years gave me an inkling into a different way of looking at the world. That’s something I wanted to share through “Arctic Comics”.

1st: What was your contribution to “Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection”?

Nicholas: I Illustrated “Tlicho Nawo”, a story by Richard Van Camp, in Volume 1 and “The Creator Tamosi” by Gerard and Peta-Gay Roberts in Volume 2.

1st: What is life like in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada?

Nicholas: There’s no life like it. 🙂 There’s a lot going on creatively and culturally.

Do you think all or most myth has some basis in fact?

Nicholas: To be honest, I’m more interested in what functions myths serve in society. 

1st: Are you a part of a native tribe?

Nicholas: No.

1st: What would you like to say to those interested in learning more about indigenous people?

Nicholas: That would depend on what motivates their interest. There are many different cultures and communities across Turtle Island (North America). If you live in North America, start by learning about the treaties that were made between settlers and the indigenous people of the place you now call home. Read the Truth and Reconciliation Report. Consider the TRC’s calls to action.


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