Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection
edited by Matt Dembicki

232 pages
published by Fulcrum

Publisher's description:

All cultures have tales of the trickster-a crafty creature or being who uses cunning to get food, steal precious possessions, or simply cause mischief. He disrupts the order of things, often humiliating others and sometimes himself. In Native American traditions, the trickster takes many forms, from coyote or rabbit to raccoon or raven. The first graphic anthology of Native American trickster tales, Trickster brings together Native American folklore and the world of comics.

In Trickster, more than twenty Native American tales are cleverly adapted into comic form. Each story is written by a different Native American storyteller who worked closely with a selected illustrator, a combination that gives each tale a unique and powerful voice and look. Ranging from serious and dramatic to funny and sometimes downright fiendish, these tales bring tricksters back into popular culture in a very vivid form. From an ego-driven social misstep in "Coyote and the Pebbles" to the hijinks of "How Wildcat Caught a Turkey" and the hilarity of "Rabbit's Choctaw Tail Tale," Trickster provides entertainment for readers of all ages and backgrounds.

My comments:

With more than 40 writers and artists contributing to this collection, it's hard to know whether it would be considered for the YALSA award. It's also hard to know whether it qualifies as being published for young adults. School Library Journal recommended it for grades 5 and up, and Kirkus for ages 10 and up, but Publisher's Weekly didn't include an age recommendation in their review and Booklist included it with their adult nonfiction. Fulcrum doesn't provide a target audience on it's website.

Like any collection with multiple authors and artists, the writing and art styles vary from tale to tale. The art ranges from characters against simple backgrounds to realistic characters traversing elaborate backdrops. There are naturally some tales that I liked better than others. My favorites include "Azban and the Crayfish" (about a wily raccoon who tricks a whole community of crayfish into his belly) by brothers James Bruchac and Joseph Bruchac with art by editor Matt Dembicki, "Rabbit and the Tug-of-War" (the cover image is taken from this story) by Michael Thompson and Jacob Warrenfeltz, and "How Wildcat Caught a Turkey" (rendered in a charmingly scribbly style) by Joseph Stands With Many and Jon Sperry. My absolute favorite tale in the book is "Puapualenalena: Wizard Dog of Waipi'o Valley" by Hawaiian storyteller Thomas C. Cummings Jr. with art by Zdepski. It'd be hard not to love the yellow dog with black spots after seeing pictures of him chewing up aha root for his master, or dancing among the psychedelic-looking 'uhane.

Dembicki explains in a page-long editor's note that the tales haven't been westernized for a wider audience, and are intended to provide readers with an authentic Native American storytelling experience. The note also briefly explains how the collection came to be. I actually would have liked it better if this note appeared at the beginning of the book (rather than at the end), so that readers who are unfamiliar with Native American folklore can get a bit of context before delving into the tales.

At the end are brief biographies of all the contributors. The tales are all written by Native authors. According to Dembicki, finding willing authors was a bit of a struggle until he was able to gain support from a few key people. The storytellers each got to choose artists for their stories from a pool of contributors and approve the storyboards. Many of the authors and artists have websites, which are included with their bios.

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