BOOKWORM: Graphic novel retells Native American legends

“Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection” edited by Matt Dembicki, c. 2010, Fulcrum Books, $22.95, 232 pages.

“I got yer nose.”

Remember that? Some relative, usually an uncle or somebody, tucked his thumb in his fingers and somehow, you were convinced that your nose was in his hand. How many times did you fall for that when you were 3 years old?

Back then, such tricks were a harmless way of teasing a gullible kid like you. But as you grew up, pranks became sophisticated and, sometimes, they felt meaner.

In the new book “Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection,” edited by Matt Dembicki, you’ll read ancient tales of pranks and tricks; some nasty and some, just plain funny.

While killing time one day in a library, Matt Dembicki came across a book of Native American myths and tales. Intrigued, he pooled together a group of illustrators and storytellers. This book is the result.

From Yup’ik Eskimo John Active, illustrated by Jason Copland, comes the story of Raven, who tricked the Deq into letting him go free, then tricked the Beluga into opening its mouth wide. Finally, Raven fooled the hunters into leaving their prey and he took the entire catch.

Chief Kiha, who ruled the Waipi’o Valley, was angry when someone stole his ‘Awa. In “Puapualenalena, Wizard Dog of Waipi’o Valley” by Thomas C. Cummings Jr. and illustrated by Paul Zdepski, the culprit is a spotted dog who took the roots for his elderly father. When Chief Kiha orders the dog killed, the old man spins a tale of brutish spirits and possibility.

Did you ever wonder why rabbits have puffy little tails? In “Rabbit’s Choctaw Tail Tale” by Tim Tingle, pictures by Pat Lewis, Rabbit wouldn’t stop talking. He almost talked Fox into giving up a tasty fish, but Fox was a fast thinker. He quickly tricked Rabbit into leaving not only the fish, but a bit of butt as well.

And from the Navajo comes the tale of Mai and the Cliff-Dwelling Birds (story by Sunny Dooley, art by J. Chris Campbell). When Coyote decides he wants to fly, it just might be possible – until a few birdbrains trick him in more ways than one.

Years ago, civic leaders often swore that comic books would be the ruination of civilization. They never saw comics like this…

In his afterword, Dembicki says the book almost wasn’t published.

“People I approached about the project were unsure of my intentions,” he says.

But one supporter became three and three became 21 storytellers from across the mainland, Hawaii and Alaska; each matched with comic artists who illustrated the stories as told to them.

While I enjoyed reading the tales themselves, what I liked best about “Trickster” was seeing how each artist interpreted the legend they were given. Some tales were made dark and foreboding, while others were given a lighthearted mien. Those differences and perceptions give each old tale a fresh, new twist.

If you think mythology and folk tales are boring, this book will change your mind. Once you open it, “Trickster” has got yer brain.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.

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