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From ancient legend to graphic novel

Before there was Superman, before there was Wonder Woman, there was the Thunder Maker, and the long-lost Mi’kmaq legend of The Stone Canoe.

This recently-discovered fable – uncovered in 2003 at Acadia University by poet and essayist Peter Sanger – has been brought to life by First Nation artist, activist, and musician Alan Syliboy in a multimedia exhibit at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. It will be accompanied by a corresponding graphic novel created by Syliboy and published by Gaspereau Press, which is set to be released in the spring.

“The idea of [the Thunder Maker] is of this sort of a mythical creature that had great powers and came from a place of power. If you see contemporary graphic novels and Superman and so on, the Thunder Maker kind of fits into that,” said Syliboy.

Directly related to the upcoming graphic novel, Syliboy’s contemporary exhibit – aptly titled The Thundermaker – features a circle of illustrated panels based on the childhood of Little Thunder (Kaqtukwaqsis), whose mother teaches him stories that have been passed down from generation to generation.

There is a tent flap at the end of this sequence of images, where awaits another circle of images that depict Little Thunder’s father, Big Thunder, teaching him lessons. The young protagonist is learning to become a provider and to become the new Thunder Maker.

The viewer then enters a teepee and is witness to Little Thunder making thunder for the first time. This last component is presented through projected animation, a medium that Syliboy began working with a few years ago with his two-minute animated NBF film, Little Thunder, co-created with Nance Ackerman and presented at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C., as well as at over 40 film festivals around the world.

It has certainly been a wild ride for Syliboy, who has been thrilled over the last few months to share the story of the Thunder Maker with Frederictonians at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.

“It’s an ancient story but it has themes that are universal,” said Syliboy, adding that the coming-of-age tale was recorded from speech around 150 years ago but is likely to be much older.

“[The exhibit] is the story of the Thunder Maker from start to finish . . . him becoming a man within his culture and [how] he achieves his goal of becoming the Thunder Maker.”

Syliboy has high hopes for the story’s worldwide impact.

“[We’ve] taken a legend and have made it into a story that will have a bigger audience,” said Syliboy, adding that several Nova Scotia libraries are considering offering the book to the public.

“That’s why I wanted to use the graphic novel as the vehicle, because graphic novels are very successful with young people. [The legend of the Thunder Maker] will live on.”

Frederictonians can view The Thundermaker at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery until Jan. 12.

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