NShannacappo is a Nakawe author, poet, illustrator and graphic artist. He currently lives in Ottawa where he illustrates graphic novels, both his own and for other authors, and writes poetry. He published his debut solo-authored graphic novel, The Krillian Key: Salamander Run with Kegedonce Press in 2020 and his debut poetry collection, Through the Eyes of Asunder with us in 2022. For our August Author Spotlight, we caught up with Shannacappo, who reflects on his various inspirations filtered through the lens of a 60s Scoop survivor, strong female characters, the disturbing reality of AI, and on his work process as a stay-at-home Dad.
Kegedonce Press: What are you working on currently? Have you any plans for other poetry collections or graphic novels?
NShannacappo: I’m illustrating a graphic novelization of book “Land-Water-Sky / Nde-Ti-Yat’a” by Dene author Katłįà. The book is about a shapeshifters and takes place both in pre-colonial times and present day. This takes up the bulk of my time, and it’s been a pretty big challenge to pull off as it’s my first time changing a novel into a graphic novel. At this point I think it’ll end up being at least three books.
I’ve been putting together a second book of poetry in my spare time, no title yet, and I’m still working on figuring out a theme for it. Rolling around the idea of fantastical protest poetry on some of the things that I’m known to stand up for.
For other graphic novels that I’m working on, The Krillian Key volume 2, I’m about halfway through that and it picks up with Julian Savek’s story where more of the alien/human hybrid’s history is revealed. After that we’ll catch up with Salamander and Savannah, he’s still on the run, this time they’ll be getting help from a variety of Indigenous underworld figures as he figures out how to get off the planet and save his fiancé.
I’m in the editing stage of a graphic novel based on the “Navriss” poems called Navriss. That book tells the story of a person that died, wakes up in the afterlife standing over their grave with only a memory of having been loved. They set out to find out who they were and who loved them along the way they’re joined by a Spirit Guide that takes on many different shapes to help him remember.
KP: What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration, either for poetry or graphic arts or both?
NS: Well, these didn’t start out as inspirations, but they have grown to become major sources as I’ve grown older and learned more about Indigenous history. I grew up and was taken from my birth family in the 60s Scoop which meant, among other things, that I didn’t grow up with my cultural teachings, history and lost my language. Consequently when I started drawing, my inspirations were from colonial heroes and literary figures ranging from Greek mythology, to X-Men, and Savage Sword of Conan comic books as well as from movies.
John Woo’s Hardboiled (and most of his movies) for it’s frenetic ballet of gun battles, that showed so much detail, and that influence can be seen in the battle between Vladimir and Black Lotus in the hallway of The Krillian Key: Salamander Run. Dragon Ball Z and their long, drawn out action sequences, with bits of chatting after they warm up. The Myth Adventure series of books by Robert Asprin, with their copious amounts of witty banter, also Mulder and Scully for their back and forth, and for her being a strong, intelligent women who was complimented by her male partner, but not reliant on him; she held her own and was his equal. La Femme Nikita the movie where Nikita was just as capable of being an action hero as any male, as well as having a range of motivations and complicated history, she was a developed person in a genre of films where women were mostly victims and/or eye candy. The fantastical sci-fi of the Split Infinity series by Piers Anthony and the darkness of Jack L. Chalker’s Demons at Rainbow Bridge of the Quintara Marathon series.
Dance Me Outside; that film showed me that my people could be in movies and tell our own stories. Smoke Signals did the same, but that one also captured my heart in a masterfully portrayed relationship between Victor and Thomas. I wanted to be part of that, and Salamander became more clearly Indigenous because of those films. I think though the way Marvel and DC have handled Indigenous people and their superheroes was a major motivation for wanting to have a superhero that was Nish and not a caricature of an Indigenous person. Like why do all Indigenous superheroes have nature-based powers and costumes and why are they always background characters, or angry with a big chip on their shoulder? I don’t like the answers for those questions because they aren’t feel-good responses.
So taking control of the Indigenous narrative is a major inspiration to me these days and I enjoy the challenge of showing off our cultures and people, especially when I can show them without a colonial lens as I get to do in Land-Water-Sky and to some extent in The Krillian Key.
In poetry I get to talk about our struggles in a way that I hope evokes understanding and compassion as well as an appreciation for the spirit of our people who are surviving a continued genocide, and just as importantly inspire others to stand with us in ending said genocide.
KP: What do you find either limiting or liberating about telling a story through either poetry or graphic arts?
NS: Hmm, limiting in poetry and graphic art? Avoiding using the “poetic voice” that people fall into when reading poems out loud. I find it very suffocating to hear every poem read in that voice using the spoken word cadence. I think it really takes away from the power of poetry when it’s used, and that each poem should have their own flow and rhythm, that compliments and empowers the message. When I write poems it’s very much a conscious direction to avoid phrases, words and overall rhythm that could lead anyone to read in that “poetic voice.” Also poetic styles in general, their rules and regulations, even what Free Verse needs to look like, when all I want to do is write something that captivates your soul and frees your mind to travel down this meandering stream with me.
As for Graphic Art, I find the inception of AI really bothersome and insulting on many levels. For instance Disney+ used AI to generate the animation for their TV show Secret Invasion … telling every single one of us [artists] they are unwilling to pay us for our creativity and that we’re irrelevant. They can afford to pay artists as they are one of the richest entertainment companies around. Reading about that kind of thing takes the sails out of you and makes you pause. It’s already hard enough to make a living at this, there’s no salary with or without benefits for writers, poets, artists (unless you work directly for a company) and most of the time we don’t make a living wage doing what we love; we work part-time jobs, full-time jobs to make ends meet. I don’t mind having to do that, I mean yeah it sucks and I wish I could just do graphic novels and poetry for a living and then some, but I accepted life would be this way. That I would have to make many sacrifices in order to get my work out there, what I didn’t expect and don’t accept is AI replacing artists. Using AI for professional grade work, means as a company, or executive you’ve literally agreed to take food off the table of the working graphic artist.
Now on a more personal level when it comes to graphic novels and illustration what I find challenging is finding the time to do the work. I’m a stay-at-home father and days and evenings are given to raising our daughter, making sure she gets outside, fed, eats healthy food, learns something everyday, and gets to be a child without worry about being cared for, listened to, seen, and most importantly loved. It’s only been lately that she allows me to work in the day time, and I still work best at night when she’s sleeping, and when my wife is sleeping. The house is quiet, a cat sits next to me asleep or watching over me and I’ve got a movie playing on the TV and Spotify blasting metal on my headphones and a video game passively playing on my phone, text on the computer telling me what I’m supposed to draw. Dawn rolls around and I’m still working most nights, then I go to sleep on my own, but sometimes my daughter groggily comes to get me and remind me that I need to take care of myself and get some sleep. I don’t want to miss out on her life or the life I share with my wife, I had a bunch of heart attacks two years ago, and was dying, would have died if I waited to go to the ER. Motivation to draw and spend time working instead of playing with my daughter, or going for a walk with her, or listening to her endless stories that’s what I find most challenging these days. In the multiverse there’s a reality, very close to this one, where I wasn’t here for her birthday. I always wanted to be two things for as long as I can remember and those were to be a comic book illustrator (I do graphic novels), and be a father, and not a shitty half-ass father either, instead I want to be remembered as one of the greats. Especially by my daughter so when I’m gone, she’s got no doubts that I loved her, and she has the security that comes with knowing that. So I pause drawing more often than I should, my work comes slower now, but I believe that when I work it’s all the more rich for the time spent with her.
The artwork and the poetry, those aren’t challenging to me, I can draw anything I can imagine or remember or see, and the same is true for my poetry. I can take you the reader anywhere, to any time and any place and make you live there for a while then bring you home. Those things, the art of it all is easy. It’s everything around those moments I lose myself in the art that are limiting and yet so liberating because I have people in my life that understand this is how I breathe, and they give me space.
Read more about NShannacappo’s books at:
Open Book: interview about Through the Eyes of Asunder
All Lit Up: “Off-Kilter” feature interview with NShannacappo
All Lit Up: feature of Through the Eyes of Asunder
All Lit Up: feature of The Krillian Key: Salamander Run
Open Book: NShannacappo writer-in-residence post