The Canadian North is a vast, cold and isolated places at times. It can be a tough place for the soul, it seems to make the edges rough and each cut, a little deeper. I’ve been thinking about how life must be for those caught in this quandary, how it must feel to be living in a remote and cold area of the world.
It’s in that state of mind that I’ve read Yukon Ghost by Jon Iñaki Etxeberria Vanneste. I picked it up at a comic book shop I stumbled onto in Saskatoon about 2 years ago at the now defunct comic store Unreal City. I read it quickly back then, and its themes of isolation and haunting landscapes resonated with me. I felt it was a haunting read, one I revisited it recently and it was fascinating. Yukon Ghost is essentially a cross between a photo-comic and a comic. It t is a series of vignette, from one to two pages, about characters erring in desolate towns and longing for connections they will never find. A girl looking for a missing dog, an old man reminiscing about his youth, a brother remembering his family. While these appear at first to be quite trivial adventures reveals a surprisingly bleak story. The dog has been lost forever, youth can never return, and families will remain broken, and throughout the town, ghosts walk among the street. Each of the characters is alone, almost as if in different planes of existence and in different colours, never interacting with the other lost souls that are also roaming the streets.
Vanneste uses photography as his background and overlays various characters & dialog on top. His photos are sharp and clear. The lighting of each shot is appropriate and essentially helps it to not overwhelm the drawings in the foreground. The characters and dialog of each panel are beautifully integrated in a way that embellishes both. I’m not sure I’m expressing this properly, the composition is clever and benefit both photo and the art. The colours throughout are striking, particularly on the cover, but also in its contrast between the characters and their surroundings. People seems truly otherworldly on the page, as though they didn’t really belong there in the first place (the comic suggests they don’t, but they may have belonged before in a distant past). In the hands of a lesser photographer and cartoonist, these elements may not have come together as seamlessly as they. Vanneste shows a mastery of both photography and comics.
What I see in Yukon Ghost is an artist expressing a bleakness at the heart of a disenfranchised Canadian North. There is a sadness that comes from knowing that there is no place to move forward, no prospects of improvement. There’s a pain expressed poetically throughout the book. Those regrets are palpable and brings all of these themes bubbling to the surface in the final pages of the book as we read a short paragraph from the author on the book itself. Whether these sentiments are simply those of the author or his observations on the Yukon, we can feel a deeply disturbing social malaise that has yet to be addressed in a meaningful way. It’s a dark comic that leaves a mark.
Jon Iñaki Etxeberria Vanneste
Philippe Leblanc is a Canadian comics journalist. In his regular life, he improves Canadian medical education, and is the co-host of the Ottawa Comic Book Club. He reads alternative, indie and art comics at night and write about them for the Comics Beat.