Yellowknife in Words and Pictures: Alison McCreesh

Back in the summer of 2009, Alison McCreesh and her partner Patrice Tremblay arrived in Yellowknife with no fixed plans. McCreesh had just graduated from university, and the pair were on an extended drift around the country. For the first few months, they slept in their car, and poked around this strange Northern city, exploring its nooks and crannies out of sheer curiosity. “At that time, we thought we were really only passing through Yellowknife for a summer,” she tells EDGE. “For an adventure somewhere mildly exotic — and to make money,” she laughs. “And then we discovered the shacks in Old Town, and we really wanted to live in a shack in Old Town.”

Six and a half years later, the artist’s first extended work, a graphic novel called Ramshackle: A Yellowknife Story, released this month by Conundrum Press, recounts that woolly, improvisational first year as the couple slowly realized that this city was their home.

The new book is based on regular strips and sketches McCreesh was creating at the time.

“When I first started travelling, and incidentally first came North to Yellowknife, I used to have a comic blog,” she says. “I would post strips, about three strips a week, about whatever adventures I was having. A part of that was all about arriving in Yellowknife and discovering Yellowknife, and our first summer up here, the jobs we found, the places we lived, getting to know the city. So this book is based on those strips and sketches from that first summer.”

Not-so-idle-hands: McCreesh at work

In the intervening years since her arrival, McCreesh has not just found her way into the Old Town shack of her dreams. She’s also built a sustainable, if not exactly high-rolling career based on her art, a near-miracle in Yellowknife. “I work in a variety of incarnations,” she points out. “That’s key, along with a combination of living cheap and in a shack. I do illustration work and contracts for clients, and I give workshops and try and get grants for my more fine art production. I make cards and calendars… a variety.”

She didn’t grow up thinking she was going to be a visual artist. “No one really tells you you can do that when you grow up. I remember the first time, when I was a teenager, that someone told me they did that for a living, it blew my mind. No one had ever told me you could do that as a job.”

Ramshackle came to be after a different, full-length graphic novel project fizzled out. “I thought it might be easier, or anyway, safer, to just go back to those strips I already had, and then use them as a basis,” McCreesh says.

“As I was doing them I’d always hoped that somehow I would turn them into something more tangible than just an online blog.”

The comic blog originals turned out to be a time machine, helping her recapture her first, fresh impressions of the city and its denizens. “I’m definitely glad I had all those strips, just because I was seeing Yellowknife with new eyes, and all those things that people from the outside find quirky, and we stop noticing.”

The book itself, which will be launched at Down to Earth Gallery on November 11, took about a year and a half to come to fruition.

“And while I was working on this I was pregnant with our first baby and we were living in one of those shacks,” McCReesh laughs. “So, I guess, y’know, we’ve come along a little way. We’re in the shack we want to be in, let’s put it that way.”

Below, an excerpt from McCreesh’s :

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