Cole Pauls has come a long way from photocopying handmade comics in his room. A Tahltn First Nation comic artist, printmaker, and illustrator from Haines Junction, Yukon, Pauls has gained recognition across Canada for his award-winning graphic novel series, Dakwäkãda Warriors.
Spanning three parts, the series features two warriors from Southern Tutchone who protect Earth from Cyber Nāa’į and Space Kwädāy Dän. In part one, Pauls uses the traditional Northwest Coast legend “Raven Steals the Sun” to shape the narrative. Part two shows Cyber Nāa’į’s kidnapping and forced assimilation at the hands of Space Kwädāy Dän. Cyber Nāa’į’s backstory parallels the history of the residential school system in Canada, where thousands of Indigenous children were stolen from their homes and forced to assimilate into colonial culture. In part three, with help from other warriors—the Łu’än Män and Dakhká Khwáan—the Dakwäkãda Warriors engage in a final confrontation with Space Kwädāy Dän.
When Pauls first started writing the series, he was self-publishing comics and zines. “A lot of that was just me in my room making comics…. And then folding, and collating, and stapling, and numbering the zines all myself,” he says. In 2019, Conundrum Press, based in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, picked up the three-part Dakwäkãda Warriors series to publish in a single compilation.
Dakwäkãda Warriors is written in a mix of English and two Southern Tutchone dialects: Champagne and Aishihik. Pauls worked with two language preservers for translation from English into Southern Tutchone. In his self-published issues, he includes both dialects, but in the compilation published by Conundrum Press, a simplified Aishihik dialect is used. Pauls says that including the two languages was kind of a snowball effect: “When I incorporated the imagery with the book, I had it written in all English, and it made sense to incorporate the language…. So, I contacted my old language teacher from my hometown, and I asked her if she wanted to collaborate with me. And she said yes right away.”
After moving to Vancouver from Haines Junction, Pauls found a supportive community of artists whom he considers family: “It’s really nice, because we really support and uplift each other, and everyone’s really encouraging, and it’s a very welcoming community to be a part of.”
Pauls has done zine and art direction work with his partner, Kirsten Hatfield, as well as a collaboration with Squamish herbalist and storyteller Cease Wyss. In 2019, Pauls and Wyss worked on illustrating a series of eight masks based on sacred plants used by the Squamish Nation. The mask artwork decorates a utility box located on Squamish land, in Vanier Park, Vancouver. “I’m really happy to have collaborated with her,” Pauls says.
Back in his hometown of Haines Junction, Yukon, Pauls’s community is very supportive of his work. When Pauls held a launch for Dakwäkãda Warriors, he said the result was “like a celebration.” The event was attended by over 80 people, and they were joined by Dakwäkãda dancers: a traditional song and dance group that Pauls was once a member of, and of which both his parents and sisters are current members. He danced with them for the first time in ten years. “It was like a real party,” he recalls.
Pauls’s new comic, Äsúya, the Beaverman, will be published by Colour Code Press. While he is not publishing this new comic himself, he has not forgotten about the realities of self-publishing: “One thing about self-publishing people don’t tell you about is the stack of paper you’ll have in your house of unsold comics. And unfolded and made comics. You kind of learn to live around those things.”