”Trickster” is a graphic novel-style anthology of Native trickster tales created primarily by Native writers and artists. In a Q&A interview conducted by e-mail, writer/artist Matt Dembicki shared the inside story on his project.
Rob Schmidt: Let’s start with a brief description: What is ”Trickster”?
Matt Dembicki: ”Trickster” is a comics anthology, comprising more than 20 Native American trickster stories. Each story is written by a Native American storyteller and illustrated by a comics artist of the writer’s choosing. The stories cover a range of trickster types – from the more well-known creatures, such as the rabbit and coyote, to less-known characters, such as raccoons and personified spirits such as Moshup – as well as types of American Indian tribes and geographic area.
Schmidt: What’s your motivation for doing ”Trickster”? What objectives do you hope to achieve?
Dembicki: The premise is to compile some wonderful Native American stories into one book so the general public can appreciate stories unknown to many of them and to renew a general understanding and appreciation of the Native American culture.
Schmidt: Where did the idea for this project come from?
Dembicki: A few years ago, I picked up from a local library a copy of ”American Indian Trickster Tales” by Alfonso Ortiz and Richard Erodes. I really enjoyed the book, from the spot illustrations to the mythic stories, which ranged from cute to bawdy. I’ve always had an interest in fairytales and similar culturally based stories where animals are personified. But I was never exposed to Native American stories. Schools and the American culture in general tend to focus on European-based stories. So to find something new, and something based on the indigenous people of this continent, was exciting. In fact, I wanted to draw some of the stories in comic book form, using different styles for different stories.
But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted the book to have an authentic feel, so I decided to contact various Native American storytellers to write stories based on their tribe’s or region’s trickster. I also decided to seek out various artists to work on the project. I just had a gut feeling this would be something so fresh and appealing that I would have no problems finding illustrators – and I didn’t.
Schmidt: How did the project proceed from initial concept to final product?
Dembicki: I read Oritz’s and Erodes’ book about five years ago. As I mulled over how I might pursue a project using trickster animals and beings, I did more research, visiting the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, N.M., as well as the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. I immersed myself in all aspects of the Native American culture, but focused on storytelling. I still wasn’t sure how to proceed to how to contact prospective storytellers.
Finally, in July 2007, after talking with Little Foot Comics publisher Christian Beranek about what could be a good next project for the all-ages small-press publisher, I decided to take the plunge. I began contacting storytellers, using various sources, from personal to community/tribe Web sites, to attending regional pow wows and calling various museums, cultural centers, colleges – you name it.
It was especially tough in the early going, as many storytellers either didn’t have the time to participate or felt uneasy about being cold-called by someone they didn’t know and who was not Native American. Luckily, I just had a graphic novel published through Little Foot, so I sent many of the storytellers a copy of the book, which seemed to ease their concerns.
I think from that point, just a professional and courtesy approach smoothed the rest of it over. Regarding artists, it was extremely difficult to find Native American illustrators exclusively. I did manage to find a handful (such as Ryan Huna Smith, Dimi Macheras, Roy Boney, Rand Arrington), but I felt I had to broaden my pool of artists to complete the project. And I’m glad I did that because it turned out to be a wonderful educational and cultural experience for all the participating artists, including myself.
In terms of designing the book, I decided to go with a square look – 9 inches by 9 inches – instead of the standard-size comic or graphic novel, which is about 6 inches by 10 inches. Although it’s a graphic novel/comic, it’s more than that. It’s something special that I hope transcends to the mainstream, to as many young kids and adults as possible.
For more information, visit the ”Trickster” blog at http://trickster-anthology.blogspot.com.