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Jay Odjick inspired to illustrate Robert Munsch's new book, Blackflies

When Algonquin graphic artist Jay Odjick received the call to work on the new Robert Munsch book, he jumped at the chance to provide the illustrations.
Indigenous artist Jay Odjick illustrated Robert Munsch's new book, Blackflies.

When Algonquin graphic artist Jay Odjick received the call to work on the new Robert Munsch book, he jumped at the chance to provide the illustrations.

Blackflies is set on a reserve in northern Alberta. It's about a young girl named Helen, whose sister and father have been swept up by a swarm of blackflies.

Odjick said he was a bit concerned with how his style of art would work with Munsch's book.

"When you look at Munsch books, they're done in a very painterly kind of style, and what I do is kind of different. It's more modern and looks like a cartoon on T.V.," said Odjick.

In the end, Odjick said Munsch was really happy what he came up with.

Even though the book is based in Alberta, Odjick took inspiration from his home community Kitigan Zibi First Nation, Que. But he hopes kids from all walks of life can relate to the story.

Wants to inspire youth

The main reason Odjick agreed to do the illustrations for the book was to show Indigenous artists and storytellers that they can take on big name projects.

"I'm hoping my inclusion in the project opens doors for the other First Nation artists or writers to work with big companies like Scholastic," said Odjick.

"It's important to show our kids that there is a market for stuff like this… that we can do these kind of big projects."

Born in Rochester, New York, Odjick remembers falling in love with comic books at a young age. His family lived down the street from a comic book store, and he remembers the store had a unique business practice that would allow him to buy books cheaply.

"With the comics that they didn't sell, they would tear off the cover and sell them for a dime," said Odjick. "Because we didn't have a lot of money, that was awesome."

When his family relocated to his father's home community of Kitigan Zibi First Nation, he brought all the comics he collected with him.

He remembered trying to get his srtistic friends to draw comic strips that he would write stories for. After awhile he decided to get rid of the middle man, and taught himself to draw.

"When I was 10-years-old I got my first rejection letter from Marvel Comics," said Odjick.

"My older brother had a subscription to G.I. Joe, and I drew my own G.I. Joe characters… I sent them to Marvel."

He received a letter from Marvel Comics saying that he wasn't quite up to par, but that he clearly has passion for drawing and should keep it up.

Odjick's passion for drawing led him to create his own books, including Kagigi, which was later made into a cartoon for APTN.

Blackflies will be available through Scholastic book fairs this spring, with the official launch slated for later this year.

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