Arts and Entertainment

Sequential Native American storytelling

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Combining sequential comic art with Native American tales of the trickster, the new book "Trickster: Native American Tales A Graphic Collection" offers a local voice.

Elaine Grinnell, 73, tribal elder and storyteller for the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe, was given the chance to include one of her stories "The Wolf and the Mink."

"I was surprised to be asked to be a part of this," Grinnell said.

The book's editor, Matt Dembicki, gathered Native American storytellers from across the U.S. to tell stories for comic artists to depict.

Grinnell has told stories for 15 years and said no one has illustrated them aside from children drawing a scene or image during a storytelling session.

She and Dembicki chose "The Wolf and the Mink," a double trickster story as it shows the mink tricking fish and the wolf tricking the mink for those fish to eat.

"I've told it thousands of times," Grinnell said.

"People enjoy it. They can relate to it. No matter who we are, we can get tricked sometimes."

Page 89 from “Trickster” and the first page of “The Wolf and the Mink.” Page courtesy of Fulcrum Books.

Binding the details

Dembicki, who also illustrated one of the 21 stories in "Trickster," contacted Grinnell about participating after hearing about her in conversations while researching the book.

He recorded Grinnell's story for artist Michelle Silva, who has comics projects on her resumé such as "Love Buzz," a story about a young cartoonist and his quest to find love.

"Elaine Grinnell's story read like an oral story," Silva said in an e-mail interview.

"There were no page break-ups or scripting details. Her sense of voice was very strong and when I was thumbnailing the pages, I tried to keep Elaine's presence in mind as I illustrated the characters."

Silva said it took her about two to three months to finish the story.

Meaning in lines

Grinnell said she was happy to participate.

"I think it presents a new avenue and a new look at different people," Grinnell said.

"Then they find out they're just like us."

Silva, who said she's not of Native American descent, got involved because she has an interest in their heritage and folklore and because the project sounded like a lot of fun.

"I think Matt Dembicki is trying to document Native American folklore for generations to come," Silva said.

"He also gives these traditionally oral stories a new face by reinventing them as a comic."

Grinnell's story is one of her favorites and said that every tribe has a trickster story of some sort.

"I think it's just joyful," she said.

"It makes me happy to tell. I think there's a little bit of trickster in all of us."

Grinnell has about 50 stories that she's shared across the nation.

"I like them all but I have about 10 that I love," she said.

Page 90 from ‘Trickster” and the second page of “The Wolf and the Mink.” Page courtesy of Fulcrum Books.

By the dim light

She first heard the stories grow-ing up in the Dungeness area listening to her grandfather David Prince.

During World War II, the family would gather around the wood stove because their lights were off and windows shaded due to fear enemies would see the lights and attack.

Grinnell said a strong image that comes to mind is light from cracks in the stove hitting her grandfather's face in the pitch-black home.

"I was so honed in on what he was saying that I don't remember much else," she said.

Later, Grinnell learned to interpret and translate from cylinder recordings the stories her grandparents recorded for linguists in the S'Klallam language.

The mink's origins

The mink's tale in "Trickster" doesn't originate with Grinnell.

In the tradition of native storytelling, she heard it from the late

Tom Charles, a S'Klallam storyteller who lived in Sooke, British Columbia, Canada.

"I loved the way he told it," Grinnell said.

"I might have changed it a little to fit my personality."

She said the story fits how everyone starts the day.

"We wake up hungry like the mink," Grinnell said.

"He's looking for the comforts of life. The way I see it, he is so hopeful."

The mink discovers a river full of fish, which is his dream come true, Grinnell said.

"We're all fishermen (in my family) and we know the hot pursuit of fish," she said.

When the wolf shows up, the mink tries to avoid the Native American tradition of sharing half a meal when a guest arrives.

Eventually the mink is tricked out of his fish by the wolf, but the wolf doesn't leave him feeling unsatisfied.

In her own way

Grinnell hasn't been published until "Trickster."

She's been approached in the past about documenting the stories, but she didn't see the point until now.

"My family (three children and nine grandchildren) wants to know more about me," she said.

In 2007, she co-created a 41/2-hour DVD of her tales called "Grandma's Stories."

"I'm afraid of forgetting," she said.

"I did the DVD just in case I did forget."

Grinnell said she's had many requests for CDs of her stories but hasn't done it yet.

She said if offered another story to tell in a "Trickster" sequel, she'd probably say yes.

Her next project might be working with the Northwest Indian Storytellers Association to help write her stories.

"Trickster: Native American Tales, a Graphic Collection" is available through local and online booksellers.

Reach Matthew Nash at

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