Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Coyote and his Huckleberry Sisters

At Crater Lake, I created a dramatic digital slideshow presentation called “Tricksters in Myth and Science” and delivered it weekly at the outdoor amphitheater at Mazama Campground. My program featured the coyote, raven, and fisher, Native American legends and biologic facts about each. I revealed many parallels between the mythic animals and the mortal ones.

The first and best story of the program was “How Coyote Brought Fire to the People” also called “The Fire Race.” The story describes an ancient world where the only fire on earth is on a high mountain, guided by wicked old spirits called Skookums. The people tired of cold homes and raw food and asked Coyote to bring them fire. At first Coyote could not think of a good plan, so he asked his wise advisors for assistance. They are his three sisters, who live in his stomach as huckleberries. (On the west coast, the term 'huckleberry' refers to a type of wild blueberry.) They share a plan, and coyote tells him that was his plan all along. Then he leads the animals in a team effort to get the fire.

In many stories from Northwestern tribes Coyote calls upon the wisdom of his huckleberry sisters. And he never gives them due credit. After they develop a plan for him he says something like “ah, yes, that is just what I thought. That was my plan all along.”

At one point last summer, my parents visited me at Crater Lake and saw my program. My mom, the wise botanist Susan Moyle Studlar, had an insightful interpretation for the huckleberry sisters. They are a metaphor for how a person carries his family with him throughout life. Their voices and care are present always, however many thousands of miles away they may be in the flesh.

I had already created a few original illustrations to include in the slideshow, including one of coyote sneaking about the skookums' lodge—now the banner atop this page. Mom prompted me to also draw Coyote consulting with his huckleberry sisters. And that one now graces my business card:

To read the story of how coyote brought us fire, consult INDIAN LEGENDS OF THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST by Ella E. Clark (an amazing book, also contains my favorite version of the Klamath myth on the origin of Crater Lake). Also, it appears that I am not the only person so intrigued by the fire story as to illustrate it. The Karuk version of the story (in which the wicked skookums are wasps) is the subject of a picture book, FIRE RACE by Jonathan London and Sylvia Long.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"Top Three Comics" and "Poorly Crafted Comics That Can Still Change Lives"

In the early days of The Center for Cartoon Studies (fall 2005), our fabled instructor Steve Bissette taught his first CCS course: Survey of the Drawn Story. At the beginning of each session, he asked a few of us to explain our top three comics… What three comics have had the most profound influence on you and your artwork? It's an intriguing question, and one that requires some probing into one's unconscious. After some thought, I determined that my top three comics were…

1) SPIDER-MAN, because it was thanks to the wallcrawler that I became interested in comic books in the first place. At age four I saw Spidey on television and then acquired a Spidey comic the first chance I got. (I even had a period in preschool when I wore a Spider-Man mask at all times.) I was influenced by a variety of Spidey creators, including the classic work of Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. I have continued to follow the wallcrawler ever since.
2) DOOM 2099, a '90s series that featured a futuristic version of the classic Marvel villain Doctor Doom; Warren Ellis wrote some of the series including the noteworthy "One Nation Under Doom" storyline. DOOM got me particularly interested in science fiction and the future, including cyberspace, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and genetic engineering. I explored similar future technologies and their philosophic and political implications in A HUMBLE JOY and MYTHS FROM THE FUTURE; and in my unpublished work-in-progress graphic novel ARRIDABA.
3) THE SANDMAN, particularly volume 8: WORLD'S END. I discovered Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN at age 17, and WORLD'S END was the first volume that I read. It was a reading experience unlike any I had ever had in a comic book before. It enabled me to envision more possibilities for the comics medium and ways that I might use it than ever I had previously.

Every member of our CCS inaugural class had a different set of top three comics, although LOVE AND ROCKETS, AMERICAN ELF, and CALVIN AND HOBBES had the special distinction of making more than one top three list.

The top three comics project gave each of us a rare insight on our colleagues artwork--the influence of their respective top three comics was often quite evident. I also noted that many comics that made the top three list of one student or another (ARCHIE, Swedish children's comics, Marvel STAR WARS comics, etc), were not works that most critics would consider for a "100 best comics of the 20th century" list. It showed that a comic doesn't necessarily have to be formally perfect to influence someone, to inspire them to take their life in a particular direction, whether towards drawing comics or towards something else.

I'm sure that by the standards of most analytical critics, JIMMY CORRIGAN would rate as a better comic than SPIDER-MAN. But it was SPIDER-MAN, not JIMMY CORRIGAN, that captured my imagination as a youngster and made me want to be a cartoonist. When Chris Ware (author of CORRIGAN) visited CCS, I got a bit frustrated at his criticisms of my web-slinging hero (prompted by a Spider-Man poster that I had affixed to the wall of our classroom/ studio.) So I produced this cartoon (for a little thank you booklet that we made for the guests of honor).

I was concerned that Chris might find this cartoon a bit harsh, so also included a warm and nice note in the copy of the booklet that we gave him. I don't know what was his reaction. I do know that Tom Devlin (Creative Director at Drawn and Quarterly publishing) really liked this cartoon.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


A beautiful deep blue lake in the cascade mountains radiates mystic energy and otherworldly power. The Raven, a legendary trickster, wants the lake for his own- but the mighty Crayfish Beast stands in his way! A warrior of the Thamalk tribe, the birds of the sky, and a strangely-haired man with a bucket of fish all play a role in the conflict over the sacred waters.
40 pages, 10.75" X 7.75"
FOR SALE ON IKNOWJOEKIMPEL.COM ! Only $7.00 plus shipping.
This first printing is limited to 100 copies. I advise getting yours while supplies last.

And comics legend Steve Bissette (TABOO/ SWAMP-THING/ TYRANT) has more good things to say about RAVEN AND CRAYFISH in his 02-March-2010 MYRANT blog post.

On display are the front (top) and back covers.