“Dazhän Kwändǖr ch’e (This is a Story)”
October 22–December 10, 2022
“When you have a traumatic situation, details fade away,” Cole Pauls’ grandfather points out in “Estsiye Kime (Grandpa’s Home),” one of 32 comics collected in Pauls’ third book, Kwändǖr. Pauls avoids this complication through straightforward storytelling that gets to the heart of his tales and thus heightens the sentiments behind his memories.
Pauls’ best known work has always drawn from his own history. His pizza-worshiping Pizza Punks zines (collected in 2021 by his publisher, Conundrum Press) chronicle his life in Vancouver’s punk underground. Dakwäkãda Warriors, an adventure in which earth protectors fend off evil pioneers and cyborg sasquatches, is written in English and his ancestral Southern Tutchone language.
Kwändǖr is Pauls’ most personal work to date. Spanning eight years of contributions to zines, magazines, public works, and group shows, plus a new comic that closes the book, he takes readers back to his disastrous first art critique as a student at Emily Carr and idyllic memories of growing up in Haines Junction, including trips to Telegraph Creek where his family convenes every July to camp and harvest salmon. He also brings to life Southern Tutchone superstitions and pays tribute to the deep connections he has forged over the years, showcasing comics he’s made in collaboration with other artists and shouting out Indigenous tattooists who’ve imprinted his skin with permanent regalia, such as a wolf head representing his clan.
These stories are more than mere nostalgia—the formative experiences and family traditions Pauls shares in Kwändǖr are integral to his values. They are active memories, serving as a compass for how he carries himself through the world: with compassion, curiosity, gratitude, and endless generosity.
With Kwändǖr, Pauls’ work utilizes playful humour to be educational while avoiding academic pretentiousness. “Arctic and Dene Games,” for example, explains the rules and spirit of competitions like Alaskan High Kick and Finger Pull. Kwändǖr is an invitation for respectful observation and, for other Tahltan First Nations members, participation.
Since Pauls’ earliest work, he has reveled in nestling Easter eggs in his comics; knowing eyes will recognize band posters and maybe even spot their illustrated selves in a mosh pit scene. He takes attention to detail to a different level on Kwändǖr, exploring local colour palettes beyond black & white and his signature monochromes.
Pauls’ first solo exhibition, Dazhän Kwändǖr Ch’e (This is a Story), presents his comics as no one has seen them before: finished original drawings from Kwändǖr, complete with coffee stains and partially erased pencil lines, are hung on Artspeak’s gallery walls and framed by Zip-A-Tone cutouts of varying patterns and thicknesses that play off of their corresponding comics, emulating mountain silhouettes and arms casting fishing lines. Together, the panels are living documents of the care, consideration, labour, and literal depth behind each of Pauls’ comics.
Kwändǖr’s stories belong not only to Cole Pauls but everyone he has shared space with, too. They are his friends, his family, and his collaborators, among them editors, transcribers, and other artists.
Dazhän kwändür ch’e. This is a story. But it is many people’s story.
– Leslie Ken Chu