CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 1. . . .September 3, 2010
Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection.
Matt Dembicki, Editor.
Golden, CO: Fulcrum Books (Distributed in Canada by Codasat Canada Ltd.), 2010.
231 pp., pbk., $28.50.
Indians of North America-Folklore-Comic books, strips, etc.
Tricksters-North America-Comic books, strips, etc.
Tales-North America-Comic books, strips, etc.
Grades 5 and up / Ages 10 and up.
Review by Gail de Vos.
One day, Raven was walking along the Bering Seashore.
Whenever he came upon a DEQ, a sea anemone, he would give it a swift kick.
So Raven continued down the beach...
...kicking a Deq every time he came upon one.
Anyway, farther down, a particular Deq saw what he was doing.
"I'll not let Raven kick me! No way!"
When Raven arrived at this Deq, he started to kick him, but the Deq grabbed his foot.
Raven pulled and pulled but he could not free his foot.
"Deq! Deq! Release me! Release me!"
"I will not! You have no reason to kick Deqs on the Beach!"
"Deq, if you release me I'll give you my uncle's kayak."
"We Deqs don't use kayaks."
"Deq, if you release me I'll give you my uncle's seal intestine rain coat."
"We Deqs don't use rain coats."
"Deq, if you release me I'll give you my uncle's wife."
"Is she a good cook?"
(From "Raven the Trickster." Story by John Active and art by Jason Copland, pages 19-21. The story is from the Yup'ik from Western Alaska. Jason Copeland, one of the few Canadians involved in this project, is a graduate from The Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design and resides in Vancouver, BC.)
Trickster is a treasure trove, collecting over twenty stories celebrating diverse tricksters from First Nation's traditions, each story distinct in voice, emotional tone and artistic style. The tricksters, be it Raven, Rabbit, Coyote, a racoon or other beings, revel in their adventures as their tales illuminate the rationale behind natural occurrences (as pourquoi tales), offer moral lessons, acting as cautionary tales, and entertain the readers as the stories reveal, in all of its splendor, the mercurial nature of these assorted tricksters. A few of the stories may be familiar, such as "How the alligator got his brown scaly skin," "Giddy Up, Wolfie," and "Rabbit's Choctaw Tail Tale" but most of the tales may be the first introduction to the various tricksters and their exploits.
The comic book format succeeds very well in the retelling of the stories. One of the pleasures of this collection is that each story can be "heard" at the same time the reader pours over the illustrations, some painterly, others realistic and still others in a cartoon style of art, but all imbued with life, colour and passion. First Nation storytellers familiar to many in the world of children's literature include Joseph Bruchac, Tim Tingle and Eldrena Douma who share the pages with a plethora of regional storytellers from across North America along with an equally diverse group of indie-comics creators.
Unfortunately, while background information is included for all the contributors, including tribal affiliations for the storytellers and several of the illustrators, no notes regarding the stories, themselves, are provided. The care taken in collecting the tales from the storytellers and in authenticating the way they were told in graphic form, however, does alleviate some of my concern regarding source notes.
Editor Matt Dembicki states:
As a comic book creator and someone who appreciates nature, I mulled over the appeal of producing Native American Trickster stories in a sequential format. A little research revealed that such a book didn't exist. For this book, I wanted the stories to be authentic, meaning they would have to be written by Native American storytellers...To ensure a proper fit between the written stories and the illustrations, the storytellers each selected an artist from a pool of contributing talents to render their stories. Additionally, the storytellers approved the storyboards.... The point wasn't to Westernize the stories for general consumption, but rather to provide an opportunity to experience authentic Native American stories, even if it sometimes meant clashing with Western vernacular. ("From the Editor," page 225)
Gail de Vos teaches at the School of Library and Information Studies for the University of Alberta and is the author of eight books on storytelling and folklore. She also teaches a course on comic books and graphic novels.
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