If you ever travel to Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories, you might stop to see an authentic piece of Japanese samurai armor with a sword at the Northern Life Museum.
With a population of less than 3,000, the northern town of Fort Smith wouldn’t be exactly where you’d expect to find such an artifact. And no one in town is quite sure why it’s there.
This is the inspiration behind Richard Van Camp’s graphic novel, A Blanket of Butterflies, originally published in 2015 and reissued in September in color edition by HighWater Press.
It is the first in The Spirit of Denedeh series, with As I Enfold You in Petals – the second book in the series – coming out in spring 2023.
In A Blanket of Butterflies, main character Shinobu traveled to Fort Smith to retrieve his grandfather’s samurai sword and armor. But there, Shinobu meets Benny the Bank, who isn’t too eager to help him.
Along the way, Shinobu must rely on unlikely heroes, including Sonny and his grandmother, and a visitor from the spirit world. Together they take on Benny and his men, including a giant called Flinch.
“Can Shinobu find the lost sword and, with it, his family’s honor?” Can Sonny (a young Tłı̨chǫ Dene boy) and his grandmother help Shinobu while keeping the peace in their community? »
Van Camp has his own theories about how the armor and the sword came to Fort Smith.
“My favorite theory on this is that it was destined for Fort Smith, Arkansas,” Van Camp said in an interview with Windspeaker.com. “I’ve always imagined summer students with Canada Post hangovers who just try to get through the morning and end up mismanaging it and sending those boxes of armor to our community.”
Van Camp said he was “so proud” of how the new edition of A Blanket of Butterflies turned out.
“I’ve released 26 books, but I can show A Blanket of Butterflies to anyone in the world at any time,” Van Camp said. “And it usually brings them to tears because it’s such a great redemption story, not just for Shinobu, but for Benny the Bank. He’s the reluctant hero of the show.
Van Camp said reading the books in The Spirit of Denedeh series is meant to be an emotional and uplifting experience.
“I want (readers) to burst into tears,” he said. “And I want them to wonder how they’re doing this time around. Do they help? Are they contributing? Do they give, and don’t they just take? It is said that a true northerner always leaves every person in every place better than they found it. Do they live like this?
Van Camp said he hoped readers could learn something meaningful about Shinobu’s journey, both in samurai armor recovery and in his own personal growth.
“It’s never too late to change your life. It’s never too late,” Van Camp said.
“And I think that’s the beauty of Shinobu. At the end we realize that it is (complicated). He is a man with a story. But he has a girl on the way and he wants to do well with her. The woman has not abandoned him and he wants to bring her back to his family.
Van Camp felt honored that HighWater Press had chosen to bring the color edition of Blanket of Butterflies to a wider audience. The book is illustrated by Scott B. Henderson, Donovan Yaciuk and Nickolej Villiger.
“It’s a huge investment to color a graphic novel and reprint it,” he said. “They could have continued with (the books in) black and white,” he said. “So I think what that tells me is that HighWater Press really believes in the spirit of Denendeh.”
The film and television rights to the series have been sold to creator Loretta Sarah Todd, who slightly changes the title of “A Blanket of Dragonflies” to set it apart a little from Van Camp’s original work. Although still in the very early stages of writing, Van Camp said he can’t wait to see what the final product will look like.
“I’m really excited because I’m a huge fan of his work,” he said. “I love what she did for, you know, the adaptation of Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach. I can’t wait to see what she’s going to do with it.
A butterfly cover can be purchased from most major book retailers and directly from HighWater Press and its partner Portage & Main Press.
By Adam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com