Home > Uncategorized > Local Writer, Artist Team up on Native History Graphic Novel

Local Writer, Artist Team up on Native History Graphic Novel


Aboriginal youth would be the obvious audience for a slim graphic novel about Manitoba native history.

But Winnipeg writer David Robertson hopes his newly published effort, Stone, cuts a wider swath.

“Comic books and graphic novels are good for struggling readers of all kinds,” says Robertson, who will launch Stone at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Chapters Polo Festival store on Empress Street.

“They’re useful for ESL students. They’re a way of getting anyone going on reading.”

The 30-page book, priced at $12.95, features a colour cover but black-and-white inside pages. It is the first of a planned four-part series, titled 7 Generations, being published by Highwater Press, the trade book imprint of Winnipeg educational publisher Portage & Main Press.

The plan is to release the next three books in the series in three-month intervals until the end of the year.

The series focuses on seven generations of Plains Cree, starting in the early 19th-century and leading up to the present day. The main character, Edwin, is a troubled aboriginal teen who has attempted suicide.

His mother tells him the story of a proud aboriginal warrior, Stone, whose adventures encompass some of the touchstones of prairie native history, such as the smallpox epidemic of 1870-71 and the residential school years of the mid-20th century.

“Stone is sort of the aboriginal spirit Edwin has inside himself,” says Robertson, who has a Cree father and white mother.

“He has the pride in his heritage that Edwin lacks.”

Robertson, 33, has a B.A. in English from the University of Winnipeg and works as a program manager for an aboriginal employment agency. He and his wife have three children under the age of eight and a fourth on the way.

“I write late at night,” Robertson says. “It’s a busy time.”

Two years ago the Helen Betty Osborne Foundation published Robertson’s graphic novel on the slain native teenager, a book that has found its way into numerous schools.

Emboldened by his success, Robertson took his 7 Generations idea to Portage & Main partners Catherine Gerbasi and Annalee Greenberg.

“It was a no-brainer,” says Greenberg, the company’s editorial director. “The concept had it all.”

Greenberg thinks the books should find favour not just with the commercial market but also the educational one.

“Graphic novels are a way of engaging readers,” says Greenberg, whose company published April Raintree author Beatrice Mosionier’s memoir last year.

“There’s a wide world out there for them.”

Though he has always read and written comic books, Robertson is not an artist. Greenberg held an open call for one and selected Winnipegger Scott Henderson, a University of Manitoba fine arts graduate with a background in comic-book illustration.

“It was a very easy relationship,” Henderson says of his experience of collaborating with Robertson. “We were of like minds with so many of our ideas.”

Robertson, a movie buff, writes not just the dialogue but a detailed visual description of what he wants in each panel. Henderson takes it from there, creating stark black-and-white images that have the dramatic feel of the Sin City series. They work together, back and forth, until they’ve got a finished product.

“Scott does a great job,” Robertson says. “If the artwork is terrible, nobody is going to pick up the book.”


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