Monday, July 26, 2010

An Interview with Trickster's Matt Dembicki


Hi everyone,

Recently, I read Trickster: Native American Tales, a Graphic Collection (2010).  Trickster is not only one of my favorite graphic novels of this year, but also a much needed addition to the multicultural graphic novels currently on the market.  I strongly recommend this graphic collection to middle school and high school teachers.  :)

Matt was awesome enough to do an interview for TGN readers as well.  Here's what he had to say!

1.     If I were asked to pinpoint the most significant area of need in the graphic novel world, it would center on the need for more multicultural graphic novels.  Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection (2010) is an amazing new graphic novel that certainly responds to that need.  What is the origin behind this collection of graphic tales?

I have always had an interest in fairy tales, folk tales and mythology. My parents are Polish immigrants, so growing up I was privileged to hear many Eastern European tales not often heard in the U.S., in addition to stories popularized by the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Anderson. But it was “Little Trickster the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear”—a children’s book by Ken Kesey—that put Native American trickster stories on my radar. Then one day when I was at my local library, I was in the Native American section and I saw a copy of “American Indian Trickster Tales (Myths and Legends)” by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz. The wonderful stories and spot illustrations in that book inspired me to test whether the stories could work in a sequential comic format. As I started to do some thumbnail layouts, I could see that it would make a great comics project, especially if contemporary Native American storytellers would provide their own trickster stories.

2.     This collection of graphic novel tales highlights the talents of many artists and writers.  Each tale is extremely powerful, both verbally and visually.  How did you get this amazing group of contributors together? 

It took a long time to gather this group of storytellers and artists. To find storytellers, I contacted universities, storytelling groups, museums and events that featured Native American storytellers. I also wanted to make sure there was a balance of geographic area among the storytellers, as well as a variety of trickster animals/being. Most people are familiar with rabbit and coyote as trickster animals—probably from watching the Warner Brothers cartoons—but there are other less-known but just-as-intriguing trickster animals, such as raven and raccoon. I also looked for a variety of styles among the artists, so each story could have a distinct look but fit within the overall feel of the book. Most of the artists I already knew or at least I was familiar with their works. I did make an effort to reach out to Native American artists as well and a handful did participate. Since the project didn’t offer payment up front—I started on the project before finding a publisher—it was harder to get artists to participate because of the time commitment to illustrate the stories. I was fortunate to find a good group of creators who found the project exciting and had faith in the book.

3.     As the title indicates, this graphic collection focuses specifically on the role of the Trickster figure in Native American storytelling.   How do you think the Trickster figures compares and/or contrasts to the Trickster figure from other cultural stories?

The common element is that most trickster stories have a lesson to them or explain the origin of something. They differ in the manner that they are told and the settings of the stories. What I think is unique to Native American trickster stories is that they are conveyed orally and often in a nonlinear way.

4.     Do you have a particularly favorite Trickster tale? 

I really enjoyed reading all the stories in this anthology. I guess my favorite story was the one I had the privilege of illustrating because I grew in the Northeast and have had a fascination with raccoons—they have such a unique look and are so crafty. Growing up, there was a large raccoon in the woods abutting our home property that would wash its food in the birdbath in our backyard. That captivated me. I also liked that the story I drew had crayfish, which was great from an artistic perspective because I could draw land and underwater scenes. It was a lot of fun.

5.     From an English Language Arts teaching perspective, this graphic collection presents a wealth of literary opportunity.  If you were asked to speak to a teacher and his or her class about Trickster, what would you want to make sure you told them?

I would stress that Native Americans have a strong oral storytelling tradition. Comics are another way to present the stories, but I believe it’s a substitute for the wonderful experience of hearing someone tell a story that has likely been told largely the same way for generations. Also pay attention to how the story is told. Often, the stories have certain cues that are repeated, and sometimes they tend to be parts of a much larger story.

6.     Instead of being predictable and obvious with the moral at the end of each Trickster tale, this collection really does an amazing job of asking modern readers to think and reflect at the end of each story.  Was this an intentional decision?   

It wasn’t intentional on my part. The storytellers contributed stories that they wanted to present, so it was a personal decision on their part.

7.     What can GNR readers look forward to reading from you in the near future?

I’m finishing up an ecological tale told from the perspective of a great white shark. It has an edge to it. I’ve been publishing the story as 20-page mini-comics and hope to soon find a publisher to pull them into a collection for 2011. 

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