trickster: a sampler

Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection

Ed. Matt Dembicki

cover art by Jacob Warrenfeltz (whose artwork is featured in Rabbit and the Tug-of-War, p63)

Fulcrum Books, 2010.

231 pages (incl. 21 stories, note from Editor, & brief bios of Contributors), Tradepaper.

read most of these in an independent bookstore in Estes Park, CO and was reminded to pick it up again (at the Library) by Ms. Dillon at “Welcome to My Tweendom.” Also functions as a part of the Once Upon a Time Challenge.

Meet the Trickster, a crafty creature or being who disrupts the order of things, often humiliating others and sometimes himself in the process. Whether a coyote or rabbit, raccoon or raven, Tricksters use cunning to get food, steal precious possessions, or simply cause mischief. ~back cover.

Understanding that he was woefully ignorant of Native American culture, Matt Dembicki was inspired to create Trickster. He chose trickster tales because they hold a special interest. Dembicki found 21 vetted Native American storytellers  from different regions. The storytellers in turn chose an Artist for the project. Trickster is a collection of these works.

The stories vary thematically, some useful for instruction, some are origin stories, many are both. Some will appeal visually, but not narratively, and vice versa. Some will be easy to glean meaning from, others are trickier. Tricksters are not the easiest of characters to interpret, and some of the narrative styles are just that different.

It is worth taking some time with these, and necessary as the switch between styles (both in storytelling and artwork) is disjointed. While a reader can find familiar threads running throughout, each is tale is an individual’s telling. The geographical range from which the tales are taken is enormous, and, for many, you have to go to the mini-biographies at the end to figure out to which tribe the stories belong. This aspect of the collection is a bit frustrating. I would also love to see a slender addition to Trickster of annotations.

As far as a scratch to intrigue readers into further research of tales, or to even just take notice of the rich culture that was here before most of us, Trickster is a treasure. It is a fun and engaging storytelling medium.

Many are drawn to use this to peak children’s interest and to educate, but the collection is better suited to more mature readers on the whole. Most put the age 8 & up, I mightn’t bother until 10 or older, primarily because I doubt most have exhausted the picture books or collections of stories they could find in the 398s—which I suppose isn’t saying too much.

Other opinions:  Graphic Classroom’s review. School Library Journal’s A Fuse 8 Productions’ review. Welcome to My Tweendom’s reviewAnd the book’s blog site.

The collection starts of strong with Coyote and the Pebbles (story by Dayton Edmonds, art by Mike Farritor), the drawing is very appealing, and the story is straight-forward charming; a story about how the stars become scattered about the night sky. Also, the Coyote, as the disruptive figure, the Trickster, is likely the most familiar to most. The Tricksters in the following stories vary in form and function. This first story is among my favorite. It really sets up the connection between the human and animal–they are essentially linked, all members of a singular Nature; no us and them language in these cultures.

Can’t say I really understood the second tale, Raven the Trickster (story by John Active, art by Jason Copland). It does set up Raven as quite the character before the story turns on him. He is ever resilient, even as tricks are played in him in turn; and he doesn’t seem to learn.

Matt Dembicki participates as the Artist in the third tale of Azban and the Crayfish as told by James and Joseph Bruchac. The raccoon is clever and determined to trick his way into a sumptuous feast–the creative thinker we come to appreciate. This story is very similar to two later tales (of differing tribes).

The graphic style shifts more dramatically with the fourth tale, Trickster and the Great Chief (storyteller: David Smith, cartoonist: Jerry Carr). By this point, you are ready for a shift. The Trickster in a human form (in the above image, bottom right) relays an important story in the respecting of the dead and their burial sites. It also gives history and role to the owl. This is not only one of the easier ones to follow in the telling, but also in the graphic representation–in the order in which the text and images should be read.

I had a hard time with the 5th tale, Horned Toad Lady & Coyote (retold by Eldrena Douma, illustrated by Roy Boney Jr.). An example of visual aesthetics. But I respect diversity in this collection. This piece would be startling next to any of its fellows, but especially so next to the brown, black, and white line drawing of the 6th tale Rabbit and the Tug of War as told by Michael Thompson with art by Jacob Warrenfeltz (who did the cover piece), a prankster tale that Natalya really enjoyed. This one and Giddy Up, Wolfie by Greg Rodgers and Mike Short were her favorites. I think she responded to the trickery played over on the physically bigger, more powerful placed figures.

Rabbit’s Choctaw Tail Tale by Tim Tingle and Pat Lewis: Ren & Stimpy came to mind, certainly Cartoon Network, and not just because of the drawing style used, but the rabbit himself is in keeping as well. This is a story that may be familiar to some Readers. Natalya rattled off a few variations, primarily involving a Bear, a much less talkative bear. A story of how the rabbit lost its long tale, and one that might remind the reader to mind their tongue. Many of the stories end with imperatives such as this tale does: “So if you are the kind of person who, like Rabbit, just can’t stop talking, you’d better be careful. You’re gonna lose your tail!”


The Trickster in Dangerous Beaver, told by Mary Eyley, 1926, drawn by Jim8ball, is a malevolent figure who requires a bit of trickery of one’s own in order to best. It has a happy ending but is gross and scary in the meantime. The story shows how nature would be an ally, benevolent when a person honored its presence and their connection to it, not something that would necessarily deceive and devour.

More samples:

How the Alligator got his Brown, Scaly Skin by Joyce Bear & Megan Baehr. Feels and reads like a friendly picture book. This one is fun, and illustrative of that struggle to find/create balance in nature; lessons learned; the conversations between the different species…

Waynaboozhoo and the Geese as told by Dan Jones, illustrated by Michael j. Auger, is a fun, somewhat goofy, take on how the Trickster whose prankster habits lead to creating more than havoc. The Trickster figure is seen as both powerful and foolish and is involved in creation myths that are both deep and amusing. Here, he is fun and relatively harmless.

Puapualenalena: Wizard Dog of Waipi’o Valley (story by Thomas C. Cummings. Jr, Illustration by Paul Zdepski, is a trip. It was a bit difficult for me to read, both text and image sequences. Too much creativity cut loose? I don’t know, but it seems to go with this very strange, and oddly enchanting story. Pet owners will love this one, as the animal/dog negotiates the in-between of human and spiritual realms.(this is an image I found, but the actual in Trickster is color, primarily browns with very orange fire.) The Bear who Stole the Chinook are song lyrics by Jack Galdstone with Art by Evan Keeling. The drawings are lovely and easy to understand, but the narrative will come off strange, beautifully strange, as the story nears and ends. The repetition and rhythm requires the reader to remember they are reading a song.The Yehasuri, The Little Wild Indians as told by Beckee Garris, Art by Andrew Cohen. Cohen makes a charming use of this style of comic story telling.

Needless to say there is a good sampling in the approaches to story the Trickster collection takes. It would be nice to have notes on why the storyteller chose that particular artist, how they came to choose the illustrative style, in what ways they might reflect on the culture, and what culture are we looking at? Dembicki hoped that this collection would engage the Reader on at least one level, to find connection at some point, to intrigue. He was successful. Trickster is one with which to spend time.



Published by L

I read, and I write. and until recently, I sold books.

3 thoughts on “trickster: a sampler

  1. This looks like a really neat collection. Normally I’m not that into graphic novels, but this looks like a really awesome look into Native American mythology.

thoughts? would love to hear them...

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