Monday, February 25, 2019

Arctic Comics #1

Arctic Comics #1 1986 $2.00 U.S. $2.30 Canada
Souvenir Pavilion, North West Territories, Canada
by Nick Burns with assists by Lovern Kindzierski and Michele Buchanan

Three tales of the frozen north are presented in this magnificent comic book by Nick Burns and crew (doing the color separation chores). All three stories are vastly different despite their consistent setting of the Arctic.

The book begins with an Inuit legend of the beginning of time. A time of darkness before words had yet been spoken. The fox and the hare broke the silence by whispering aloud "Dark, dark, dark" and "Light, light, light" respectively. And because words had never been spoke before they were magic.

This legend sets the tone for the light and darkness in each story to come. First we have 'Spring' which is a tale seemingly set in the past about a hunter named Miuk as he and his dogs stalk a seal to provide meat for his family that night.

With equal parts luck an skill the hunter gets his prey but soon finds his luck has turned sour. The warmer Spring weather has caused the ice to break apart and Miuk is now adrift at sea! 

The other hunters from his village notice the ice has broken apart where Miuk was hunting and assume him dead. They report this tragic news to Miuk's wife Inuijak who mourns her brave husband. An odd moment occurs when Inuijak's son Sagives umik mentions he has soot in his eye.
Inuijak calmly pulls a louse from her son's head and ties a hair around the parasite. She lowers it right into the boy's eye. The louse's legs pick up the soot as it struggles to escape the slick wet surface of his eye. Wow.

Meanwhile Miuk has been stranded on the floating ice for days and has been forced to eat his dogs.

More days pass and starvation becomes a real threat. Suddenly things get worse for Miuk as the ice below his feet cracks! Will he fall into the icy Arctic waters?!

Back at the village food is scarce and the people have gathered to discuss their options. The speaker proclaims that "Taboo has been broken!" and asks if he should strip his skin and go where no people dwell... to the house of Sedna, the woman who lives beneath the sea.

Then, without warning, the lamps all go out and the confused crowd fears the worst. They scream and in a claustrophobic panic the people madly assume they are being dragged to the bottom of the sea.

 But the speaker stops them by declaring that Sedna has been appeased! She demands they kayak to the furthest finger of land tomorrow to find rich game beyond their imagination!

The next day the hunters do exactly that. But they hear the screams of an evil spirit upon the water! One of the hunters says he recognizes the voice... it's his brother Miuk! He is floating on a small raft made of ice! Miuk is pulled aboard the kayak by Karlik just as a killer whale launches from the icy waters overturning the boat! Karlik plunges into the water but quickly climbs onto the ice raft where he found his brother. Miuk waits for the whale to approach again and readies his harpoon. The whale suddenly breaches the water and sends Miuk and his kayak into the air! But the swift thinking Miuk jams his harpoon into the sea beast... he has killed the creature!

The hunting party returns to the village with Miuk alive and well! He is reunited with his elated family and the village have days of feasting ahead of them.

Thus our first tale ends and we are treated to a page featuring a glossary of a dozen or so illustrated Inuit terms (like 'Aglu-seal's breathing hole'). Now we know!

The second story is a "modern" tale of the Arctic set in the '80's titled 'My Northern Summer Vacation'.

It opens with a teenage girl named Rita writing in her journal about their trip to Safe Harbour. Her father is Mike Madigan, a wealthy oil man and he is scouting for a place to drill. He is a real caricature of a Texan windbag jerk complete with white hat and cigar. Rita's mother Thelma is a photographer who is excited to get some shots of the landscape and wildlife. Rita is a new wave looking teen with her short spiky black hair and Twisted Sister t-shirt with cut off sleeves. I'm not sure why she's wearing a sleeveless t-shirt and no jacket while vacationing in the Arctic but who am I to judge? 

Rita is introduced to some of her father's associates including his employee Damon and Peter the taxi van driver who will be escorting them to inspect the drill site.

As they drive through town Peter explains how new houses are being built in expectation for the oil boom that should stimulate their economy. Once outside of town they van crosses the rugged tundra and with little signs of life to see Thelma grows impatient for something to photograph.

At this point in the story the banter of the characters reminds me of the way Paul Chadwick (amazing cartoonist and creator of Concrete for Dark Horse Comics) breathes life and realistic nuance into the cast with playful dialogue. It's really nicely done and gives the characters life.

While Damon and Mr. Madigan talk business Peter points out the understated beauty and faint but beautiful signs of life on the tundra including birds and small ground animals. Suddenly Thelma exclaims aloud that she sees a polar bear up ahead and demands they stop so she can take some pictures. Peter advises against it but Mr. Madigan offers him cash which quickly changes his mind. Dolla dolla bill y'all.

They exit the car and walk up to the ridge where Thelma spotted the polar bear.

Unintelligibly, they bring along a bag of food which promptly grabs the attention of the bear.

As he rapidly approaches them there are several panels of everyone running in fear overlaid with narration of facts about the polar bear. For instance, did you know "the polar bear is the largest land carnivore- bigger than the grizzly bear or Bengal tiger"? I haven't fact checked this but I'm inclined to believe it.

Rita trips on a rock and twists her ankle but her father speedily turns back and grabs his daughter. But it's too late... the bear is upon them! They smell his breath as they brace for his attack!

The air is abruptly filled with the unmistakable blast of a rifle and all are still as the bear falls dead. Peter has saved them but feels obvious regret that such an act had to occur. Mr. Madigan wants to keep the hide of the beast and offers Peter more money to make it happen. Peter solemnly states that bear hunting is out of season. He tells them the whole animal will have to go to the department of renewable resources.

But when Mr. Madigan offers him a job on one of the drill ships as incentive he changes his mind. Man, Peter would probably kill his own mother if the money was good.

We flash forward a few weeks to see the drill ship in action. Rita and her father are about to leave to head back home now that the job has started. As Mr. Madigan talks business with an associate Rita says goodbye to Peter urging him to visit her and kisses him on the cheek. Nothing turns on a rebellious teenager like a man who sells out his morals for cash!

The story ends on an upbeat note with Rita pondering how of all the natural resources in the north perhaps people are the most important. It's a nice thought but we all know that human life grows exponentially while we deplete all other resources at record speed. So Rita can keep writing her cheerful diary entries but we all know what future awaits the Arctic. And in case we don't... the final story in this comic is set in the far flung future time of the year 2014!

In this future world a variety of political, religious and scientific agencies have consolidated to form Second Genesis, a group who seizes power over the entire globe. Their goal is to free Mother Earth from the strain of humanity. There are chronic worldwide shortages of food, water and breathable air. Second Genesis believes the solution is to herd the entire population into giant starships that would orbit the planet.

The plan is put into action and all are forced to leave Earth. Soon the only humans left on the planet are a few stragglers who have evaded deportation by hiding in Canada's Arctic. But Second Genesis armored troopers patrol the area looking for the malefactors.

When they do round up a stray human the convict is detained and interrogated by Second Genesis who have become tyrannical in their ideology.

The prisoners are dubbed degenerates and eco-pirates for continuing to remain as parasites on Mother Earth and daring to wear the skins of animals. If the prisoners don't give up the location of other stragglers in the Arctic they are killed and added to the nutrient vat to feed the population in orbit.

Although there are some charged with rounding up stragglers who are less loyal to the cause. They feel like prisoners in their roles as Krusaders dedicated to imprisoning those who have chosen to remain behind on Earth. There is little such soldiers can do though as their armor is equipped with location trackers and explosives that Second Genesis can detonate if they sense the soldier has developed dissenting views and is deserting their cause.

Two such soldiers (including Zac pictured above) are patrolling the Arctic when they locate some stragglers who convince them to join up with them in their underground stronghold. The soldiers have heard rumors of such a place which is called 'Refuge'. A straggler explains to the soldiers that Refuge is not a hiding place but a state of being. Once they learn this way of being then Second Genesis cannot detect them. After some back and forth, the soldiers decide to desert Second Genesis and join them. Second Genesis scans the Earth from their orbiting starships. Finally there are no signs of human life on Earth! Second Genesis believes their goal has been reached.

But deep under the blankets of ice and frozen land the inhabitants of the Refuge huddle together and tell a story. A tale of the beginning of life on Earth. A time of darkness before words had yet been spoken.

The fox and the hare broke the silence by whispering aloud "Dark, dark, dark" and "Light, light, light" respectively. And because words had never been spoke before they were magic.

And this brings our adventures in the Arctic to and end.

I kind of loved this comic. It was infinitely better than I expected. Solid art and interesting color choices adorning three separate tales that intertwine in a thoughtful and cohesive way to paint a picture of life in the Canadian Arctic. Addressed are history, folklore, political and social issues while remaining engaging and entertaining throughout. Plus it is almost forty pages of quality art with no ads! What a damn fine comic!

This was apparently the only issue published but thirty years later New Arctic Comics was published in the form of a hardcover from New Renegade Comics  featuring the contents of this single issue comic plus some other stories by other creators. I have not seen that hardcover release but if you do see the 1986 comic in your local shop's back issue bin I highly recommend picking up this gem!

Here is my depiction of a character from each of the three stories (Miuk, Rita and Zak).

I apologize for this lengthy review but that was a giant comic book with a lot that had to be shared.

 Join me next month for what most likely won't be such a long-winded recapitulation. But then again who knows... I mean just look at that cover!!

See you next time my little arluks!

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