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Tłı̨chǫ

Richard Van Camp looking for NWT models for new graphic novel


Calling all models. Northwest Territories residents could have their likeness used in the newest novel from renowned Tłı̨chǫ author Richard Van Camp.

Van Camp, originally from Fort Smith, is working on his seventh graphic novel, titled Wheetago War: ROTH. He describes it as “Frogger, but lethal.”

Set in the NWT and Alberta, the novel follows a Tłı̨chǫ father named Roth as he tries to get back to his family in Edmonton. There’s just one problem – Roth has been bitten by a wheetago.

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According to Tłı̨chǫ legend, a wheetago is a human possessed by a malevolent spirit that invokes an insatiable urge to cannibalize others. The more it eats, Van Camp explained, the hungrier it becomes.

Van Camp said he was inspired by a story he read as a child of an Elder’s encounter with a wheetago.

“It scared the heck out of me, this little article,” he said. “Even just thinking about it, I get the shivers. The two words I’ve always used to read my books are: what if? What if the wheetago returned because of the greed of men, and what if they came back to take over the planet?

“ROTH: Wheetago War is about a father who has been bit by a wheetago. He’s holding rat root – which is one of our sacred medicines – and he knows if he lets go of that rat root, he’s going to turn into a wheetago, and he’s going todevour everyone around him. He won’t be able to stop, but he’s holding on.”

‘Like holding a movie in your hands’

Publisher Alexander Finbow, with Renegade Arts Entertainment based in Canmore, Alberta, said he was “completely captivated” by Van Camp’s tale when he first heard it.

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“One of the great things that Richard brings to this kind of a story is a different perspective and a different heritage to a lot of the things that are out there already,” he said.

“Coming from the Dene traditions that he grew up with, he brings a nice perspective on narrative structure, and building on the legends of his people, he’s able to create something which feels very fresh … I want to know what’s going to happen next.”

Both Van Camp and Finbow are graphic novel enthusiasts.

“I think we’re all starving for community, and that’s where pop culture comes in,” Van Camp said. “We can often find elements of ourselves in worlds other people have created. We can fall in love. We can leave our bodies for a while. You can lead a million lives in this one through your reading.

“And I just love wicked art … it’s like holding a movie in your hands.”

Artwork featured on the Instagram page of Christopher Shy – also known professionally as Ronin

The book is being illustrated by Christopher Shy, a high-profile science fiction artist from the US. Shy has created artwork for several high-profile movies including The Thing, Star Wars, and Godzilla: King of Monsters.  

With Shy on board and Van Camp at the helm, Finbow said he hopes Wheetago War: ROTH will be one of Renegade’s biggest releases to date.

“The market is in a good place for this kind of a book now,” he said. “People are more open minded to look outside their comfort zone and what they are used to.

“We have very high hopes. I think in Canada, in particular, and also in America, we should see a lot of readers getting behind it – and then hopefully, we’ll get to do more in the series.”

‘Chance to shine’

The ROTH team is looking for NWT residents to model for characters in the book.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re in Tulita, it doesn’t matter if you’re in Behchokǫ̀ – you name it. You can be in any community, and if you’ve got a cell phone, this is your chance to shine,” Van Camp said.

Specifically, they are looking for three Indigenous men in their 20s, an Indigenous Elder in their 60s, two northern women in their 30s and 40s, a young Indigenous boy aged 12, a teenaged Indigenous girl aged 16, and Roth himself, who is an Indigenous man in his 30s or 40s.

If selected, Van Camp warned the task could be a big commitment. Shy may phone the model at any time to request an image of a certain facial expression or action for drawing references, he said.

The illustration process will take about a year. Van Camp said he hopes the book will be published by next fall, but no firm date has been set.

Listen to Richard Van Camp explain the novel in his own words. Clip featured on the Lunchtime News on July 8, 2021.

What Van Camp truly wants, he said, is to provide an opportunity for someone from the NWT to build their career.

“You’re going to see your likeness in a beautiful book,” he said, adding the story could be adapted into a TV series or feature film in the future.

“I know that there are people in the communities who want to be actors and models, and this is your chance to reach a higher stage.”

Those interested in the paid opportunity should email their headshots to wheetago@gmail.com by July 15. Van Camp suggested sending at least five different headshots looking up, sideways, left, right and down and showing different emotions.

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