Leslie Eutuk is wearing pink sunglasses with flowers on the frame. Fred Charlie Weyiouanna has soaped himself with Teen Spirit shower gel. Amos Olanna is cuddling his tabby.
But Leslie, Fred and Amos have to move: they live in Shishmaref, a coastal village in the far west of Alaska. The ice that has protected the people there from storms coming in off the Bering Strait since time immemorial has now started to fail them.
The story gives its teller opportunities galore to serve up a goodly portion of climate schmaltz, but the panel soon realized that in The Last Days of Shishmaref this trap has been consistently avoided.
This is because the story told here is about the people, and not about humankind. Each chapter focuses on just a few, brown of skin, dark of hair, Asiatic in aspect. They are introduced to us in a brief text which is followed by a series of photographs showing the life they lead, and finally by an account of some other aspect of the Shishmaref story, e.g. Relocation, Cultural Identity or Subsistence. By way of memento each series of images concludes with an almost boring photo of the main protagonist, the ocean.
The text sections are printed in grey on a coloured ground, sometimes with too little contrast for the older reader. Some of the line drawings sink into this ground. To set against this, the text pages have a thin border in a contrasting colour and that tends to brighten the page up a bit.
The book’s unspectacular format lifts it out of the corner of art and into that of documentary. The dust jacket is deliberately too short, reaching halfway up the word Shishmaref on the cover beneath. Grim.