The following is a transcript of a twitter chat with the authors on June 21st, 2019 edited for maximum blog readability. To interact with this conversation on twitter, click here.
We had the chance to chat with author Tasha Spillett and illustrator Natasha Donovan on their new graphic novel Surviving The City, which follows two young women Dez (Inninew) and Miikwan (Anishinaabe) living in urban Winnipeg.
WOTS: The book opens with a beautiful poem (song?) – can you tell us a little bit about that verse, and why you chose to open the story with its’ message of strength and protection?
TASHA SPILLETT: I wrote this poem when I was teaching Grade 7. Many of my students had already experienced racialized [and] sexualized violence. I wanted to write something just for them, words that could serve as both protection and comfort while they move through their lives.
NATASHA DONOVAN: I’ll just add that it was an honour to provide an illustrated backdrop for the poem, and I feel like it was an excellent set-up for an ongoing theme of resilience.
WOTS: The colour pallette is gorgeous, a muted tone yet vibrant with reds, blues, yellows – what inspired your choices? #WOTSauthorchat
ND: Thank you! Tasha requested a “strong” colour palette, rather than a monochromatic one, so I went for colours that I felt illustrated the girls’ ability to find joy and love even in the face of immense loss.
WOTS: And what was the experience like, collaborating on this project together?
TS: First, so much gratitude for Natasha for contributing her gifts to this story. Honestly, seeing it come to life [and] live its life has been like ceremony.
ND: It was interesting to work together over such a distance (I’m based in WA); at times there was quite a bit of back and forth over email – but Tasha ensured that her vision was made clear through her detailed script.
WOTS: That’s incredible, thanks to you both for putting this out in the world! Who is your ideal audience for this book?
ND: I’m just a little biased, but I truly believe that this story is important for everyone – it’s approachable for younger get audiences, but older audiences will appreciate the subtler themes. [As well,] it provides an important service to all those who are not familiar with the MMIWG2S crisis – it’s a story that deserves to be understood.
TS: In my mind, the ideal audience for Surviving the City, are Indigenous youth who are doing just that – surviving the city and even more, thriving. The story belongs to those who have similar experiences as the characters.
Yes, I wrote it but the story belongs to many. As an educator, I imagined the graphic novel in the hands of young readers who may not see themselves or their families on the page.
WOTS: There are great details throughout that help anchor the story in time/place, like the poster featuring Anishinaabe musician Leonard Sumner. Are there others we should keep our eye out for?
ND: I’m not a Winnipeg local, so I just followed Tasha’s lead and tried to incorporate as many of the details she requested!
TS: Full transparency, Leonard Sumner is my fiancé so I took the opportunity to plug the best man I know. There are so many local shout outs in the characters and place references. If you’ve ever been to Treaty 1 you’ll see familiar places like Odena Circle. I also included an intentional critique of the Canadian Human Rights Museum who until very recently didn’t name the violences waged against Indigenous ppl as genocide.
WOTS: Can you talk a bit about the portrayal of the “spirits”, some benign some sinister, that share space with Dez, Miikwaan, and some of the other characters?
TS: I had a dream once where I was told that people who pass on are still all around us. Sometimes they watch from a distance, and when needed they are very nearby. I wanted to convey this in the words and images. That we are never alone. I also believe that there is a duality (or even more, plurality) in everything – so we also see the negative spirits. In my mind, these represent colonialism [and] genocide.
ND: I appreciated Tasha’s idea of including the spirits – especially the nurturing & caring ancestor women spirits – even just drawing them felt like an act of love and connection. I tried to reflect this feeling through posture & facial expressions.
WOTS: Though they are silent characters, it felt like they had a lot to say – you portrayed them beautifully.
Do either of you have a favourite page or panel?
TS: I love all the panels of Relatives (seen and unseen) gathered to honour the memories and call for justice for MMIWG2S. I feel like Natasha and I really connected in these panels. They still give me shivers. #WOTSauthorchat
ND: The protest pages took an incredibly long time to illustrate, but I’m very satisfied with how they ending up looking! I’m probably most proud of the panel where Dez and Miikwan finally reunite!
WOTS: Those pages have gorgeous detail, and that hug was such a relief to see!
To wrap things up, what are you working on next?
ND: I’m working on some book covers for a YA novel series, and am excited to get started on the next book in the Mothers of Xsan series with the fantastic Brett Huson! #WOTSauthorchat
TS: Right now I am working on volume 2 and 3 of this series, a baby book and my PhD. In saying that, I’m so grateful for the patience people have for me and my work. Sometimes stories don’t come on the schedule I set for them, but they are coming!
WOTS: An excellent series! We will keep our eyes peeled, thanks for chatting today
TS: Kinanaskomitinawaw! Happy Solstice [and] Indigenous Peoples’ Day!