TRICKSTER: Native American Tales - An interview With Editor Matt Dembicki
Readers, say hello to Matt Dembicki. If you've been following this site for a while you may be familiar with an interview and a review we did a while back of his book, Mr. Big . Now he is back with a new anthology, Trickster: Native American Tales – A Graphic Collection. The title is pretty self explanatory; it is a collection of comic stories telling trickster stories from Native American folklore.
As part of his Trickster Blog Tour (like a book store tour, but on the web) Mr. Dembicki has stopped by for a chat.
Scott – Comics in the Classroom: Mr. Dembicki, thanks so much for stopping by. As you may remember, I am a real fan of your last big work, Mr. Big. Is this your first major comic work since then?
Matt Dembicki: I've done some other projects since then— Spadefoot (a cartoony space opera that was initially done as a Web comic), “Skunk Ape” (a full-page strip about a Bigfoot-like creature for Bash , a short-lived monthly comics newspaper in Washington , D.C. ) and Liquid Revolver , a science fiction/psychological thriller set during World War II.
CitC: Why this anthology and not another solo project?
Matt D: An anthology was a nice break from my solo projects. Plus I felt that this particular project would make a unique anthology. The variety of stories and art styles are one of the strengths of the book.
CitC: What was the inspiration for this?
Matt D: It started when I read Ken Kesey's kids' book Little Trickster Squirrel Meets Double the Bear . That prompted me to visit my local library to find some authentic Native American trickster stories. That's when I came across American Indian Trickster Tales (Myths and Legends) by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz . It's an awesome prose anthology that includes a wide array of stories from different tribes, including some bawdy tales. It really sparked the idea of possibly translating trickster stories into a comics form.
CitC: There is a wide range of styles present here, both in storytelling and in art. How were the creative teams and stories selected for this book?
Matt D: It took a couple of years to gather a list of storytellers. I sent e-mails to Native American organizations and museums, contacted colleges and universities with Native American programs, searched online and at libraries for storytellers who were doing presentations at various venues, and attended various Native American events to talk to people who might be interested in contributing to the project or if they knew of someone who might be interested. I also wanted to make sure the stories would represent a geographic distribution, which also helped to broaden the types of trickster beings that appear in the book. ?
Nearly all of the storytellers had no experience with the comics medium—meaning, mainly writing a story with the idea of it being illustrated in a sequential format. It's different from doing a kid's book. To make sure that the storytellers were comfortable with the medium and that the stories were done appropriately, the storytellers chose which artist they wanted to work with from a short list of artists that I provided to them. After reading each story, I provided art samples from artists whom I thought would do a good job of rendering the story. I typically provide a realistic artist, a cartoony artist and someone with a style in the middle. The artist would then send some character designs and “thumbnails”—a rough draft of the pages—to make sure the writer was OK with it. I think being transparent and open like that was critical to making participants comfortable with the project.
CitC: That's very interesting. From what I know creating comics is completely different from other forms of writing – it worked though.
I'd like to get into the actual comics now. In general, the stories here are Native Mythology. Specifically these are all Trickster stories. Who or what is a Trickster, and why were these the stories you wanted to tell?
Matt D: A trickster can be anyone, anything, and every culture has its own trickster stories. Basically, it involves a character trying to trick someone else into doing something—and sometimes the plan backfires. In regards to Native American tricksters, I think most people are well acquainted with coyote and rabbit as tricksters. But I wanted to shine the spotlight on some lesser-known tricksters, including raccoon and raven, and also some that take a more human form.
CitC: One of the first things I noticed while reading was that the structure of these legends are not always as linear / straightforward as one would expect. I'm especially thinking of the story in the book, Raven the Trickster by John Active and Jason Copland. . It doesn't really go where you think a story should go. Could you comment on the nature of Native North American mythology story telling as opposed to that of Norse and Greek/Roman?
Matt D: I can't really comment on comparisons between mythologies. I'd be way over my head. The storytellers themselves would best be able to talk about that. But, as you noted, many of the stories are not quiet linear or are told in a different rhythm than most Western readers are accustomed to. Often, the stories are segments of larger, continuing stories.
CitC: Before reading TRICKSTER I assumed there would be a lot of Nanabozho / Nanabush stories, but there was only one (a Waynaboozhoo story by Dan Jones and Michael J. Auger). I'm not sure what the question is here…I guess, Howcum?
Matt D: One of my goals was to make sure there was a variety in terms of geographic representation among the writers. That in itself provided a good way to ensure that a variety of trickster animals were represented. Does that answer the question?
CitC: So basically, the trickster I am most familiar with is from a certain geographical area and not necessarily part of all Native legends?
Matt D: That's correct, though some animals, such as rabbit, are found across the U.S. , so they are quite common among many stories.
CitC: As far as I know the two Native-centered comics I have covered, The Adventures of Rabbit and Bear Paws series and a series of terrific PSA type comics put out by The Healthy Aboriginal Network have been well received. Have you had any reaction from the First Nations community about Trickster ?
Matt D: Not directly. I suspect it's because the book is still very new. A few Native American newspapers have written positive articles about the book. Perhaps the most interesting aspect was in talking with some of the storytellers. A few of them wanted to talk to their elders about the project before participating. Some storytellers were skeptical whether their elders would agree to it, as they thought they would be very traditional in their approach. But, surprisingly, most gave their approval. Even though there's a strong oral storytelling tradition among Native Americans, there was a growing concern that the stories could die because the younger generation didn't seem too interested in hearing them. Plus with so many other things competing for the attention of kids—video games, Internet, smart phones—they seemed to feel that recording the stories in another form was another way to reach Native Americans and non-Native Americans and to preserve the stories.
CitC: What was the reaction from Aboriginal comic creators?
Matt D: I think they enjoyed working on the project. Several have been interviewed by local media about the project and their contributions. Again, I would encourage talking to the storytellers to get their firsthand impressions.
CitC: That is a good idea. Finally, what else do you want us to know about this book?
Matt D: I think that about sums it up. It's been four years in the making and I'm glad it's finally out!
CitC: And finally finally, what is next for you? Are you heading into more solo comics or something else entirely?
Matt D: I'm about to finish up Xoc (pronounced “Shock”), which is an ecological story that tracks the journey of a great white shark across the Pacific Ocean and the challenges it encounters along the way, both natural and man-made.
CitC: That sounds interesting – reminds me of Mr. Big. Any idea of the release date?
Matt D: The individual self-published issues are currently available for $2. I'm currently talking with publishers to find a home for the trade collection. Hopefully, the complete 90-page book will be out next spring or summer.
CitC: Thank you so much for your time. You can get TRICKSTER: Native American Tales now .
Edited by Matt Dembicki
Published by Fulcrum Books
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