"Little Bird" is a stunning cyberpunk graphic novel about indigenous people in a Canadian dystopia

Little Bird was a 2019 comic book miniseries written by filmmaker Darcy van Poelgeest, with stunning and surreal visual art by Ian Bertram. The basic setup of the story is familiar — there's a dystopian society, ruled by a fascist government, and a league of scrappy rebels determined to take them down.

In this particular case, that struggle lies between the Canadian theocracy of a Catholic Church obsessed with imperialism and genetic modification, and the scattered groups of indigenous insurgents who refuse to assimilate and sacrifice their traditions (cultural, or religious). While it doesn't engage too deeply with any of the specific First Nations that have lived in what is now Canada, it's hard to miss the overwhelming colonialist commentary that fills each magical and slightly-abstract panel of the comic. There are all the epic battles and betrayals and genetic horrors you'd expect from the genre, yes; but Bertram and van Poelgeest cleverly choose to focus on the psychic damage of this particular cyberpunk conflict.

And that's what makes this story particularly powerful. Human beings appreciate familiar stories, but also tend to connect more deeply with the specificities of individual human experiences, and Bertram and van Poelgeest know this. They take this Akira-meets-Star-Wars approach to world building, but ultimately deliver something more than just big-screen action. Even though the plot is full of heartbreaking surprises, those aren't the details that stay with you after reading — it's the surreal, dreamlike depictions of multi-generational trauma that really make it resonate. Bertram's Angoulême-nominated artwork helps to drive that experience, by leaning more into the European aesthetic of graphic novel storytelling than the big-guns-and-muscles style more familiar to Americans.

Little Bird plays out over 5 jam-packed issues that have since been collected in a single edition (you can also read the first issue for free, courtesy of Image Comics). I know I plan on spending part of my Columbus Day re-reading it from front-to-back.

Little Bird [Darcy van Poelgeest and Ian Bertram / Image Comics]