The Woman and the Woods and Other North American Stories is the 5th volume of the Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales series and the first volume to be published by Iron Circus Comics. The campaign is live on Kickstarter and will be until Saturday, September 11, 2021. Before the end of the first week of the campaign, approximately $143,000 had been pledged, giving a clear indication that there is a tremendous audience for comics inspired by Folktales of Indigenous Nations. Jimmy Gaspero was lucky enough to chat with Alina Pete, Kel McDonald and Kate Ashwin about this anthology.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Alina, Kel, and Kate, welcome to the Yeti Cave. When I first heard about this anthology, I was very excited to support it, and am thrilled to have a chance to talk about these comics. Alina, as editor and cover artist, how did you become involved in the project, and what was your approach/inspiration behind the cover artwork?
ALINA PETE: I've know Kel from the comic convention circuit, and was a contributor to Kel's werewolf anthology, "Can I Pet Your Werewolf?" Kel asked me to join the Cautionary Fables team for the North American edition in order to be a cultural consultant as well as a co-editor.
"All Indigenous stories belong to the nations who tell them, not to any individual storyteller, so we asked our writers to ask for permission from their Elders and/or nations to tell these stories in this anthology. It was very important to us that we respect the protocol of the nations featured in this anthology."
AP: For the cover, I knew that I wanted to feature the legend of Turtle Island, which is another name for North America. In this legend, Sky Woman falls to the world, which was originally entirely covered in water, and lands on Turtle's back. This cover shows Sky Woman dancing for joy, and the patterns of plants on Turtle's shell show that his shell will soon become the land. The constellations feature characters from two of the stories in the anthology - Chokfi the trickster rabbit from "Chokfi," and the white horse from "White Horse Plains."
CBY: How did you curate the contributors list for this? Did you have any set criteria? Were there particular folktales that you wanted to make sure were included?
AP: Since we knew that this anthology would feature Indigenous stories, we were committed to having all of our creators be Indigenous. We also wanted to feature people from as many different nations across North America as possible.
We also had another major consideration for this anthology – we had to take into account the traditional protocol surrounding Indigenous legends. All Indigenous stories belong to the nations who tell them, not to any individual storyteller, so we asked our writers to ask for permission from their Elders and/or nations to tell these stories in this anthology. It was very important to us that we respect the protocol of the nations featured in this anthology.
"It's also really important that Indigenous creators tell Indigenous stories, since in the past, a lot of collections of Indigenous stories were done with minimal input from Indigenous people, and often with no compensation. It's really an honor to be able to provide a platform where so many Indigenous creators can work together to introduce people to our work!"
CBY: Will the North American Folktales that inspired the comics in this anthology be familiar to readers?
AP: Some of them may be, but many of them are new to me, and I've spent years researching North American legends! Even the stories that were familiar to me – such as White Horse Plains, which takes place in Manitoba – have been retold in such a beautiful way in these comics that they feel like I'm discovering them again for the first time.
CBY: Are these stories that are in danger of being lost or forgotten outside of Indigenous communities?
AP: Yes, very much so. Learning to tell a traditional story isn't simply a matter of being told it once or twice. In my people's (Cree) traditions, you have to earn the right to tell a story by listening to it over and over again, until you can tell it by heart without changing a word. Becoming a storyteller is a lifelong process. And this process of passing the stories along to new generations was disrupted by colonization. We were banned from gathering, and passing along this knowledge became dangerous. These days, there are many stories that are only known by our Elders, so there's a danger of losing our stories entirely.
CBY: Do these folktales still resonate today?
AP: Very much so! Our legends have some great wisdom in them, and a few of our stories in this anthology have been retold in a modern setting, which lets kids today see themselves in the characters.
CBY: That's fantastic! How important is it to Indigenous creators to be able to have an outlet to tell these stories?
AP: It's vitally important! I think there's a perception that our stories "aren't for" Indigenous people, which is a shame, because they're wonderful and deserve to reach a wider audience. Comics are a great way to do that, since they're very easy to engage with even for kids who wouldn't normally pick up a book of legends. It's also really important that Indigenous creators tell Indigenous stories, since, in the past, a lot of collections of Indigenous stories were done with minimal input from Indigenous people, and often with no compensation. It's really an honor to be able to provide a platform where so many Indigenous creators can work together to introduce people to our work!
CBY: Kel and Kate: How did you become involved with Spike Trotman’s Iron Circus Comics as publisher for the Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales Anthology series, which previously had been crowdfunded?
KEL MCDONALD: I forget where I heard it, but there is a quote "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity," and that is a good description of how we teamed up with Spike and Iron Circus. When we were kickstarting the Oceania volume, both the Africa and Asia volumes were getting close to selling out. It can be hard to keep stuff in print, but also we needed to get into bookstores and libraries to reach more kids and justify keeping them in print. So we needed to partner with someone to grow. At the same time, Iron Circus just got a distribution deal with Ingram and wanted to expand their catalogue. Spike told me in particular she wanted something kid-friendly, since the adult side of things was well-handled. The Cautionary Fable and Fairytale books had already been proven successful independently, so we were a safe bet. So it was our preparation meeting opportunity.
KATE ASHWIN: The Kickstarters for the previous four volumes performed very well indeed, but at a point, it becomes difficult for just two people to handle the intricacies of delivering quite so many books! Iron Circus loved our core concept of sharing stories from all around the world, and being as they're an incredible Kickstarter-fulfilling powerhouse, we were more than happy to team up with them. Being published by such a high-quality label also means we're able to get these books into libraries and thus into the hands of more readers, which was always the dream!
CBY: As editors, were either of you familiar with the folktales that inspired the comics included in this Anthology? Were there surprises? Did you research North American folktales, and if so, what resources did you use, in preparation for your role as editors?
KM: I vaguely knew about Chokfi and Rougarou before the book and some tales that didn't get adapted into the book. Chokfi because I've read some essays about Brer Rabbit that compared him to Chokfi and African trickster figures. And I knew Rougarou because I like werewolf stories. I didn't do any research beforehand because the contributors know their people's stories better than I ever could. I also wanted to keep my notes to "Will a kid who doesn't know these tales follow them?" and more general notes like "this panel layout could use some work," "this balloon might be better placed over here," and things that are more technical.
KA: Most of them were completely new to me! I live over in England, and the majority of folk tales we tend to hear are the European types – your Grimms and Andersons and such – so learning about these has been a real delight. That's a large part of why we wanted to make these books, to introduce each other to the stories we've been enjoying for centuries all over the world.
CBY: What were the most challenging aspects of putting this anthology together?
KM: Honestly, COVID. It's hard to stay focused and work on anything during a global pandemic. That goes for us on the editorial team and for the contributors.
KA: All anthologies are a ton of effort to put together, and since a lot of the organisation of this one came about during the pandemic, it's been a little harder than usual. It's been a rough time for creatives, both mentally and physically, but we're so proud of the work all of our contributors have brought to the table. They've really made an amazing book here, despite difficult circumstances.
CBY: Did you have any favorite stories/folktales from the anthology that spoke to you?
KM: I mentioned earlier I like werewolves. So "Rougarou" jumped out to me immediately and I was very glad someone adapted it.
KA: I always adore a trickster, especially the ones that reach a little too far and get their comeuppance, so "Chokfi" was an immediate favourite for me!
CBY: Alina, Kel, and Kate, thank you so much for joining me for this interview and I hope all CBY readers will check out The Woman and the Woods and Other North American Stories.