Art has always been a catalyst for social change. Before a piece of artwork can make an impact on the world, artists must embark on a process of complex decisions, creative thinking, and skillful execution. In part one of this two-part series, we interviewed artists Natasha Donovan and Scott Henderson. Both have contributed artwork to convey powerful messages in works like This Place: 150 Years Retold, the Surviving the City series and the A Girl Called Echo series. We talked to them about how they choose projects, their creative process, and how graphic novel art can impact a social movement.
Natasha Donovan (she/her/hers) is a Vancouver-born freelance artist and illustrator as well as a member of the Métis Nation of British Columbia. She is the illustrator of the award-winning graphic novel series Surviving the City, and has had work published in the graphic novel anthologies, This Place: 150 Years Retold and The Other Side. She is the illustrator of the Mothers of Xsan children’s book series, including the award-winning first book, The Sockeye Mother, which was shortlisted for the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction.
PMP: Natasha, your artwork has appeared in socially-conscious works like This Place: 150 Years Retold, and series such as Surviving the City, and Mothers of Xsan. How do you decide which projects to get involved with?
ND: Luckily for me, I’ve stumbled into working with some exceptional editors who do an excellent job of reaching out to Indigenous creators and ensuring that many different voices are heard. My family and my professional background also play a role in driving my decisions—having victims of violence in my family and working for the International Journal of Indigenous Health were strong motivators to illustrate Surviving the City (volume 1 in the Surviving the City series), for example.
PMP: Why was it important to you to illustrate the Mothers of Xsan series?
ND: I am very much in love with the Pacific Northwest; nothing says “home” to me like dark grey skies and hanging moss and towering cedars. It’s a rich, interconnected ecosystem, but it’s also fragile—and endangered. I am so grateful to be a part of the Mothers of Xsan series because it gives me the opportunity to share my wonder at living here, and hopefully to contribute in some small way toward a sustainable relationship between humans and rainforest.
PMP: In your view, how do books like the Mothers of Xsan series impact young learners?
ND: My favourite childhood books were the ones that taught me about the magic and joy that can be found in the everyday world. It’s my hope that the Mothers of Xsan sheds light on a secret world where salmon make epic journeys and grizzlies help the trees grow. This is a world that’s worth engaging with, loving, and protecting.
To see what Natasha is working on now, follow her on Twitter at @natashamdonovan.
Scott B. Henderson
Scott B. Henderson (he/him/his) is an author and illustrator of many graphic novels, including The Chronicles of Era series, Fire Starters, the A Girl Called Echo series, select titles in the Tales From Big Spirit series, and select stories in This Place: 150 Years Retold. He also illustrated the Eisner-award nominee, A Blanket of Butterflies. In 2016, he was the recipient of the C4 Central Canada Comic Con Storyteller Award.
PMP: Scott, you’ve illustrated graphic novels like Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story, A Blanket of Butterflies, and the A Girl Called Echo series. A lot of your work, including these titles, plays with time (either the past or future) to communicate socially conscious themes to readers. Can you offer some insight into the creative process when working on pieces like these?
SBH: With A Girl Called Echo, I worked with Katherena and Donovan Yaciuk (the colourist) to establish some rules or a theme. The modern-day scenes were to be more muted colours, while the scenes when Echo is in the past are more vibrant and have a more painterly style. It was to help elaborate on the disconnect that Echo had with the present day. Other times, I sometimes play with different border styles to distinguish between different time periods. With Echo, the modern-day scenes have more straight lines and rigid borders, while the past is a little more casual with (subtly) irregular borders.
PMP: How did you find out that A Blanket of Butterflies had been nominated for an Eisner Award?
SBH: I think I found out about the Eisner Award through the marketing team at HighWater Press. It was a pleasant surprise!
PMP: What do see as the role of graphic novels in affecting social change?
SBH: Humans have always been very visual creatures, and so graphic novels tie into this deep, long history. I think books and novels are deeply important as well, but for those just starting to learn a new topic, or that don’t have a lot of experience digesting these larger tomes, graphic novels are great for someone to jump right into a topic.
We can perceive so much information visually at a glance. From that foundation, the reader can build on their knowledge and develop a more nuanced perspective. Also, visually, you can speak to so many people that maybe don’t speak the same language. The language of art can be more universal.
To see more of Scott’s amazing work, visit his website at scotthendersonart.wordpress.com.