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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Matt Dembicki
Paper Street Comics
Last Airbender Movie Manga
Recent Books of Interest

Trickster by Matt Dembicki (ed.) and other contributors (Fulcrum)
Trickster Dembicki has put together a great introduction to Native American trickster tales here, in accessible "graphic novel" versions (novellas?) for those who have yet to catch up with the adventures of Coyote -- the continent's first media star -- outside of a Looney Tunes cartoon. But the stories don't just stick to the well-known Coyote, including other trickster luminaries -- tricksters being those characters who can move between worlds, boundaries, rules, and sometimes genders, and transform things -- like Raccoon, Raven, Rabbit, and more. The "tellers" here are Native American storytellers -- each paired with a stylistically different artist (from "serious" painted work to exaggerated cartooning) -- which means that the story structures, often defying Western expectations of "linearity" (and cause and effect), are preserved. Not that a real trickster is especially worried about, you know, structure.

Careful #1 by Victor Carungi and Gentry Smith (writers) and Adam Markiewicz (art) (Paper Street)
Plucky indie comics maven Carungi here returns with an "urban myth"-style teen horror tale, where a previous horror committed at a high school becomes the stuff of supernatural incarnation, starting as a kind of joke, Candyman-style, and becoming -- well, much more serious. You've seen this set up before in a lot of R-rated horror films -- cruel jocks (with secrets), coping nerds, and Revenge that Gets Out Of Hand. One issue into this four-issue series, this seems to be at least as fun-cum-shocking as the best of that drive-in genre's fare (remember drive-ins? No?), and gives some promise it could take some new twists of its own. Stay tuned -- and be careful what you say out loud.

Various "Last Airbender" tie-ins (Del Rey)
Last Airbender So on the eve of going to press, a package arrived at NG's Western Headquarters with three different tie-ins to M. Night Shyamalan's film adaptation of the Nickelodeon's anime(ish) cartoon hit, The Last Airbender. (Originally called Avatar: The Last Airbender, but for some reason, they're de-emphasizing the first part). The film is the first of purported trilogy, and what's interesting for film buffs among these tie-ins (there's also a "prequel") is to compare the reprinted TokyoPop book that was the "original" adaptation for the TV series, to the one-volume film adaptation. As merrily cheesy as the TV version is -- replete with exaggerated manga mouths, popping eyes, etc. -- the book sets up more in the way of stakes and suspense than the film adaptation appears to: in other words, by compressing the story into three summer multiplex acts, as movie versions are wont to do, the story may not be, well, quite as rich as the series itself. We'll see. Nonetheless, either will perhaps be reasonable road reading for your in-house Airbender fan during your summer travels.

Trickster Tales with Matt Dembicki

Trickster panel
Trickster panel
Trickster panel
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. (see sidebar review)

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.

What was the original impetus for the collection?

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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!

(An earlier version of this interview appeared at Guys Lit Wire)

Copyright © 2010 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams wrote the Danger Boy time travel series, gets trickster-y when he teaches writing classes, and Twittery @mlondonwmz

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