Author Richard Van Camp says, “Giju's Gift is a treasure filled with knowledge, insight, and a little bit of terror ... Brandon Mitchell and Veronika Barinova have knocked it out of the park and given us something special that everyone can learn from.”
From Listuguj, Quebec, Brandon Mitchell is the founder of Birch Bark Comics and creator of the Sacred Circles comic series, which draws on his Mi’kmaq heritage. He has written five books with the Healthy Aboriginal Network, (Lost Innocence, Drawing Hope, River Run, Making it Right, and Emily’s Choice). Brandon has written and illustrated Jean-Paul’s Daring Adventure: Stories from Old Mobile for the University of Alabama, as well as two Mi'qmaq language-based stories for the Listuguj Education Directorate. He has also completed an art installation for Heritage and Culture New Brunswick. Brandon currently resides in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
Trevor Corkum: Giju’s Gift explores the story of Mali, a Mi’kmaw girl who joins forces to battle a giant. Why were you drawn to telling this story as a graphic novel and who are you hoping it reaches?
Brandon Mitchell: I grew up on comic books; I’ve always loved the format. There’s more freedom to explore the story visually and emotionally. There are storyboard panels that help flesh the story out more.
I hope is that as many readers as possible find and read this story. There’s a little something in this story for everyone, regardless of age.
TC: In the book, Mali encounters one of the pugulatmu’j or Little People, who teaches her important life skills and history lessons. Can you tell us a little bit more about the pugulatmu’j and their role as Guardians?
BM: The pugulatmu’j are little tricksters. Growing up I was told to take care of my things or the pugulatmu’j would take them. They were the ones that took the left sock, the remote or the loonie in your pocket. That’s what I grew up with.
My mom told me they lived deep in the forest and would come sliding down the mountain with their toboggans and play harmless tricks on people.
As I grew older, I hear different stories about how they would help children who would get lost. One of the signs that they helped was that they would ruffle a person’s hair.
TC: Without giving too much away, one of the important lessons Mali learns is about bravery, and another about redemption. What was your inspiration for this particular story?
BM: We all have a fire or drive inside of us, but sometimes those fires need more fuel. Sometimes all we need is a little push or nudge. My focus was the importance of being curious and where our curiosity takes us. Sometimes our curiosity can take us to places are scary but if we can overcome our fears then we can continue to explore and learn more. At a young age we’re always asking questions and it seems as we get older, we lose some of that wonder.
We are all capable of great things that are based on the choices we make. Our choices can be influenced by things out of our control and sometimes we make the wrong choices that lead down a different path. Those negative choices or paths don’t define us as a whole and it’s never too late to make a change for the better.
TC: Graphic novels can be highly collaborative works, and your illustrator for the project is Veronika Barinova. What was it like to work together, and how did you handle the collaboration during the pandemic?
BM: I love collaborating with other creative minds. I’ve been fortunate in my journey to collaborate with amazing artists to help elevate and visualize what I write. This was a rewarding and fun experience. It’s all about trust. It helps that I studied animation and script writing in college. We both come from a similar background, and we were able to speak the same language. When I’m writing, I try to be as descriptive as possible with what’s happening in a scene. Veronika was able to beautifully capture everything that I had visualized in my mind.
The pandemic didn’t really impact how I/we work. I’ve always worked remotely and online/virtually before the covid, and we had been working on this before the pandemic. The only impact was the release date.
TC: Finally, this is the first in a planned series of graphic novels you’re working on inspired by traditional stories. Can you tell us any more about the novels to come?
BM: Without giving too much away, the next story will expand on the world I’m introducing. This story will focus on Glooscap who is one of the creators of the land in Wabanaki. Like the pugulatmu’j, I will be focusing on the northern Mi’gmaq version of him. Mali seeks him out to help her community.
Excerpted from Giju's Gift by Brandon Mitchell. Art by Veronika Barinova, copyright 2022. Reproduced with permission from HighWater Press.
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