Trickster: Matt Dembicki on His Cartoon Anthology of Native American Stories
Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection (Fulcrum Publishing), an anthology of American Indian stories conceived and edited by local cartoonist Matt Dembicki, is out now, and he'll be at Big Planet Comics in Vienna on Saturday signing copies. The anthology features trickster stories by Native American storytellers and art by a host of indie artists, many of whom are D.C.-based. Dembicki recently answered a few of our questions.
Washington City Paper: What's Trickster about?
Matt Dembicki: Trickster is a full-color, all-ages collection of 21 Native American trickster tales. It features stories with well-known traditional trickster animals, such as rabbit and coyote, as well as less-known characters, such as raccoon and raven.
WCP: How did you come up with the idea?
MD: I was reading a prose book of Native American trickster stories. I thought it would be a great personal exercise to draw the various stories in different styles. As I began to doodle, it occurred to me that it could make a good project to work on. But if I was going to do it, I wanted to include Native American storytellers and other artists. I wanted to build a community around the project. It had to be authentic.
WCP: With a name like Dembicki, you're not a Native American are you?
MD: I’m not a Native American. My roots are Polish. But I’ve always had an affinity for myths, fairy tales, origin stories and the like, from all cultures—and every culture has them.
WCP: Did you write all the stories? If not, did you assign ideas to people or did they propose them to you?
MD: All the stories were written by Native American storytellers specifically for the anthology. In the initial stages, I talked with each writer about one or two trickster stories based on their tribe that would work best. They then submitted the stories and, after reading them, I recommended three or four artist who I felt would do a good job rendering the story. I included a range of styles, from cartoony to realistic. The storytellers selected who they wanted to work with.
WCP: How did you find contributors?
MD: Finding the Native American storytellers was the toughest part. I called museums, colleges and universities, storytelling groups, visited various Native American events and activities and worked off of referrals. It took about two years to find a group of storytellers from across the country who were interested in participating. For the artists, I tapped mostly folks I knew or who I’ve wanted to work with.
WCP: Was putting together an anthology harder than doing your own comic book?
MD: Absolutely. Putting together a typical anthology is tough enough because of the various personalities and organizing involved. Working with writers who weren’t necessarily accustomed to the comics medium and being culturally sensitive without patronizing added another layer of difficulty. But it all went surprisingly smoothly. I attribute that to being transparent about the project every step of the way and keeping in frequent contact with everyone.
Trickster creators will be at Big Planet Comics, 426 Maple Ave. East, Vienna, Va., 703-242-9412 on Sat., May 15 from 2PM-4PM.