A vision song passed down among Western Australia’s Yindjibarndi people, interpreted both verbally and visually in rousingly dramatic fashion by a comics artist.
Typical of stories transmitted verbatim from traditional sources, the original lyrics read to a modern audience as a series of disconnected comments on the action: “The white ochre hill is frightened to see the red water worms… / …bound together like string, fleeing the banks of the river at Gaatharramunha.” Sutu (Stu Campbell) fills in the storyline’s blanks with sequential panels of jagged, magnificently strange figures aglow with pulsing digital light. Depicting a grizzled seer staring into a crackling fire, then suddenly embraced by a giant praying mantis and later riding an immense golden serpent as it twists through and around a tumultuous river, the art is a mix of captioned and wordless sequences. When matching text does appear, it can be toggled back and forth with a tap between the original Yindjibarndi and an English translation that the illustrator reads with low-voiced urgency. Along with a background note that traces the song from its first singer to those of today, extras include a video of a modern public performance by two Yindjibarndi elders (another recording of the song plays over the main story’s credits) and a presentation of the lyrics line by line, with vocalization and translation.
Both an exciting spirit ride and a cultural artifact that is presented with careful respect and enough background for context. (iPad storybook app. 7-9)