This memoir by Canadian artist Joan Steacy casts a wide net in the objects of its focus. Partly it’s about Steacy’s experience in education, starting with her years in a vocational school that she was sent to because she was pronounced a “slow learner,” and her subsequent struggles and triumphs with higher education, juxtaposed with ideas about how education works and how people learn. Related to this journey is the strand within the book about the concepts of visual learning and aural learning, as opposed to reading, methods she employs in her development as she starts out adulthood as a self-described “functionally illiterate” working to absorb the written word better.
But there are other strands winding through this as well. There’s Steacy’s fascination with the work and ideas of Marshall McLuhan and her friendship with his family. There’s the story of her relationship with husband Ken Steacy, long a well-known comic book artist, which provides the story with regular interaction with the comic book world — Jack Kirby, Moebius, and others make cameos — even even though she is not particularly interested in comics. Alongside that is the ironic plot depicting how comics should be a natural visual storytelling medium that appeals to someone who struggles with reading and who has become a skilled artist. And then there are the other family relationships, with her parents, with her in-laws, and with her children.
This is a low-key stew to be sure, and Steacy comes off as a very intellectual and complicated thinker — even as so much of the book captures casual moments, Steacy can’t help but also depict heightened exchanges of ideas between herself and other people in detailed ways. This all has a purpose though that is transferable to anyone, the notion that you don’t a traditional education to love exploring big ideas, and being capable of doing so with other people who have perhaps had a more normal experience with learning.
Steacy’s book is sure to speak to people who feel different in some way but are also living ordinary lives. Her calm and friendly presentation of her own journey provides proof of the idea that a normal life experience doesn’t necessarily exist, and intellect and talent don’t all require the same form of nurturing. You can be you, whoever you are, and move forward with your goals. And, as Steacy points out, you can do that at any age.
On the first read, Nhun the Huntress might be off-putting, but something sticks with you in the wholly unique presentation of its ideas and you realize that the most satisfying work is sometimes not the work that delivers immediately so you can move onto the next thing promptly. Turkish cartoonist Firat Yaşa delivers exactly that, pulling from the histories of civilization, of art, and of gender in rich ways that blend a sublime visual work with a powerful philosophical punch behind it.
In the simplest terms, a story about a master tracker for a hunter-gatherer tribe, the Luvy, Nhun is in constant collision with a faction in her community that wants her leadership position of master tracker to be held by a man, despite her obvious capabilities.
The first quarter of the book is a wordless hunting expedition that sees Nhun tangling with a giant bird that threatens her male hunting companion, but upon return to her village, Nhun is immediately faced with a spin by a male elder who attempts to take the glory of defeating the bird away from her and transfer it to the companion, Alu. These efforts to disarm Nhun’s authority don’t stop there, but don’t linger on them either, preferring to cover the tribe’s healing methods and accompany Nhun to a city visit where she has a mystical experience and receives matriarchal religious guidance, as well as some flirting with Alu, who appreciates Nhun’s fierce capabilities.
This mix of viewpoints swirls into a tale of transition from a hunter-gatherer way of life to a settled, agricultural-based society that Nhun’s specific story plays a part, specifically regarding the debate among the tribe members. But rather than letting conflict and violence define the human experience, Yaşa advocates for creativity and community as our defining traits, since both those require collaboration.
A good portion of the book’s sophistication is its visual presentation, which is a strange and original confluence of a Vaughn Bode art-style and a jam-packed Where’s Waldo aesthetic, but saturated with a major stylistic embrace of cave paintings. The combination creates a requirement for concentration and definitely more than one reading, but it shows Yaşa as someone capable of letting words and pictures meld together seamlessly in communicating complexity and demanding that the reader meet the work half-way, with the understanding that reading means growth, and growth is what Nhun the Huntress is all about anyhow.
John Seven is a journalist and children’s book writer living in North Adams, Massachusetts. His books include ‘A Rule Is To Break: A Child’s Guide To Anarchy,’ ‘Happy Punks 1-2-3,’ ‘Frankie Liked To Sing,’ and others. Find out about all his things at johnseven.me.