The graphic novels retelling New Zealand's Land Wars

Cover of Wars in the White Cloud; Wairau, 1843 by author Matt McKinley.
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Cover of Wars in the White Cloud; Wairau, 1843 by author Matt McKinley.

Could comic books be the way future Kiwi teens learn about their country's past?

Author Matt McKinley has just released his first graphic novel in a series which will examine different events from the country's Land Wars.

"As a kid I was enthralled with books or films about kings, knights and soldiers," McKinley said.

"Wars in the White Cloud; Wairau, 1843" author Matt McKinley.
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"Wars in the White Cloud; Wairau, 1843" author Matt McKinley.

He had thought interesting history only happened overseas, but as he grew older and learnt more he found New Zealand's own stories were just as fascinating.

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McKinley set out to create stories with fictional characters following factual events.

Four years ago he began the research for his first book Wars in the White Cloud; Wairau, 1843, to ensure all factual elements were accurate, "right down to the chieftain's ta moko".

Next he story boarded the comic, wrote text, then illustrations.

Each page of pictures takes around 16 hours to complete, with 58 pages for the first book and the next in the series only growing in size.

The first book followed Arana and Will, unwilling participants in a conflict at Wairau Valley, as British settlers to Nelson clashed with the governing iwi Ngati Toa.

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Originally he was planning on writing for an older audience "and making it quite grim," he said.

"But I thought about it and decided I wanted to target it to 13 and 14-year-olds."

"I thought back to that age and I would have died to have something like that in front of my at social studies instead of a textbook."

The first graphic novel was already a hit with students.

He sent out first copies to schools and received a call from one librarian ordering more copies and saying it had captured a group of students who would pass it around during their lunch times. 

It was also shortlisted for the Best First Book award at the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

McKinley, who grew up in Havelock North moved to Wellington for study and completed a Bachelor of Industrial Design then Master of Design with Massey University.

He now lives in Cambridge where he works as a product manager for Gallagher Group during the day, while writing and illustrating at his dinner table by night.

Once he completed orders for his debut book he will continue working on his second comic about the Flagstaff War in Russell.

 - Stuff

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