How Jay Odjick illustrated Robert Munsch's newest book
Helen lives with her family on a reserve in northern Alberta. One morning, she wakes up and peers outside her window to see that the snow has disappeared from the ground and the sun is streaming through the trees. Excited by the arrival of spring, she swings open the front door — and is greeted by a giant swarm of blackflies and mosquitos.
She is the main character of beloved children author Robert Munsch's new book, Blackflies, which was illustrated by Algonquin artist Jay Odjick.
Portraying the First Nations community
We wanted to instantly set the tone that the book was taking place in a First Nations community and that the characters were First Nations characters. I think it's a huge thing to have a book from as high profile of a writer as Robert Munsch set in a First Nations community. We don't want to leave that ambiguous. We wanted people to know. So we wanted to approach the design process from a perspective of "Okay, let's do modern First Nations people. Let's not go to the stereotypes and the tropes and the things that we've seen before." I think that it's important to show First Nations kids an accurate representation, a positive representation of themselves drawn by one of their own.
Reconnecting with nature
As a kid growing up in a First Nations community, for anyone who's familiar with Kitigan Zibi, you're familiar with summers around that area. It's very hot, very humid. Thick bush, very dense forest. Bugs are really bad. The good side to that is that it's about reconnecting with nature. In a way, you're part of an ecosystem. You're not just taking and eating. You're also feeding things — thousands and thousands and thousands of tiny little vampire bugs. The good news about that is because the bugs were so bad, I spent a lot of time inside and I learned how to draw.