Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Trickster tales with Matt Dembicki

Comics creator Matt Dembicki is the editor/creative force behind "Trickster," a graphic novel anthology collecting tales of North America's first adventure heroes -- trickster figures like Coyote, Raven, and other "animal humans," who both transformed the world around them, and were often transformed by it (in spite of themselves).

The book pairs up Native American storytellers with comics artists, and provides a great batch of reading that is, well, both thrilling and yes, transformative. As you'd demand from any encounter with a trickster!

In the course of my comics review writing, I asked Dembicki some (virtual) questions about the anthology, which has been gaining lots of media notice -- perhaps because a project like this is so vastly overdue.

GLW: What was the original impetus for the collection?

MD: I was reading a prose anthology of Native American trickster stories when I decided to sketch some of the animals depicted in the various stories. Then it occurred to me that these tales could make great stories in a sequential art format. But if I was going to undertake such a project, I wanted to include Native American storytellers to have them write stories based on their tribes’ trickster tales. That was the only way to make it authentic.

GLW: How did you decide which trickster tales to include? (Did you want to keep from becoming "all-Coyote," say?)

MD: My goal was to have geographic representation among the storytellers. And since each region has its own trickster animal or being, it guaranteed a variety of animals. So, for example, many of the Southwestern tribes have coyotes, while those in the Northwest have ravens, Northeast raccoons and Southeast rabbits. Some tribes had a few trickster animals, so I encouraged storytellers to consider stories that were particularly unique or ones that featured lesser-known tricksters.

GLW: How did you match "teller" to artist? (Especially given the range of visual styles in the book?)

MD: After reading a storyteller’s submission, I would give him or her a short list of about four artists who I felt would do a good job rendering the story. I included a range of styles, from cartoony to more realistic. The storyteller then selected which artist he or she wanted to illustrate the story.

GLW: Had each teller worked in comics before? If not, how did you work the breakdowns and layout?

MD: None of the storytellers had experience working in the comics format. For most of the stories, the selected artist took the prose story and did some character sketches and pages thumbnails and got the OK from the writer. Many of the artists also did research on their own to ensure things like the setting, clothing and shelter were as authentic as possible.

GLW: Any thought of trickster tales from other cultures? Pan? Elijah? Anansi? (etc...!)

MD: I don’t think so. This project took four years to complete, which is quite a bit of time. But I may work on another Native American-focused project, something historically based. In the meantime, I’m finishing up a graphic novel about a great white shark’s journey across the Pacific!

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