Maui: Legends of the Outcast - A Graphic Novel by Chris Slane & Robert Sullivan. Hb/Sb Godwit Publishing ( Random House ) New Zealand © 1996 ISBN: 0 908877 97 8 ( 297 x 210mm Colour )
Design, Storyboarding, Pencils, Inks, Lettering, & Colours: Chris Slane. Script: Robert Sullivan. Colours: Jonathan Paynter, Bill Paynter. Technical Direction and fonts: Bill Paynter.
Shortlisted : Russell Clark Medal Shortlisted : Young People's Non-Fiction Award (NZ Library & Information Association) Children's Book Awards 1997.
Bart Beaty, Comics Journal
I don't pretend to know what is going on the comics scene of New Zealand, so I'm not exactly sure how these things work. It may just be that a book like Maui: Legends of the Outcast is simply one of those amazing flukes that is occasionally tossed by the capricious gods of sequential art into the hands of unsuspecting comics readers as a test of the faithful.
In the case of a book like this one it is tempting to believe in divine providence because it is too difficult to believe that a book this elegant, bold and mature could simply materialize out of nowhere. Maui: Legends of the Outcast is a European-style hardcover album produced by artist Chris Slane and writer Robert Sullivan which tells a number of bound-together tales of Maui Tikitiki-a-Taranga, an outcast trickster of Maori mythology. There are a number of different myths told here (including a confrontation with the Goddess of Fire to the capturing of the Sun in a giant net) and it is a credit to Sullivan's skill at telling these tales that the book holds together remarkably well as a single cohesive narrative line encompassing the life and death of Maui in just forty-eight pages.
What is most remarkable about the book, however, is the art by Chris Slane. Chock full of thick and heavy blacks that seem to rage across the page, it is all aggression, energy and power. Yet the sharp kineticism of the rendering is tempered by the subtlety of the colouring which is predominantly defined by muted greens and browns, highlighted by pastel monochrome purples and blues. The combination of frenzied linework and muted colour palate is just delicious. It may turn out not to be a gift from the gods after all is said and done, but it is the work of a supremely confident cartooning duo. And sometimes that's just as satisfying.
'Outcast in Ink '
Dylan Horrocks, Pavement Magazine
The quintessential Maori outcast, Maui, is now the hero of one of New Zealand's first graphic novels. There's something very appealing about Maui. He's rude, he's arrogant and he has no respect for authority. No wonder he's popular with cartoonists.
Back in the '70s. Dick Frizzell drew a comic book version of Maui's exploits for the School Journal. It was kind of like Conan the Barbarian goes bush. And Anthony Ellison's recent gag strip in a weekly women's magazine stars a Dennis the Menace-like pre-pubescent Maui. But now there's Maui - Legends of the Outcast, a 48-page, full-colour, hardback graphic novel. And the old trickster-hero has gone back to his roots.
The creation of cartoonist Chris Slane and poet Robert Sullivan, Maui recounts the best-known of the Maui legends in wild, brooding pictures and dialogue that moves from ritualised chant to playful irreverence -very much like its hero. And it's a rollicking read, taking Maui from an ill-starred birth to his infamous end between the thighs of Hine-nui-te-Po, with plenty of gods, magic and ancestor-abuse thrown in. Not that it treats its subject frivolously. The book's been "five years in the making", much of it spent in research. After many rewrites, including a version set in the present, the pair ended up sticking to the original "staunch legends". It wasn't until the last couple of drafts that we lost 'bro'," chuckles Slane.
How did they find working on a graphic novel? "It's an immense amount of work compared to political cartooning," exclaims Slane. Sullivan looks similarly exhausted by the experience. "I'm a poet and poetry's driven by the ego," he explains wryly. "So it was very difficult coming to terms with the fact that it wasn't my work of art. It was our work of art and my part was secondary. It should be driven graphically, rather than by the text. And I did enjoy the minimalness of the text because it meant I had to pare it right down. Every word had to count." What was the appeal of the Maui tales? "There are all sorts of serious lessons to be learned from these legends to do with finding your roots," explains Sullivan. "Maui is a trickster-hero but what he does is important for defining the Maori world." Adds Slane: "Maui's a rebel, an upstart. He breaks rules, breaks tapu to gain power. Some of his popularity may be to do with the way he overturns status, the powers that be."
Early drafts played up the satirical potential of the story. "Then we got all serious because we started doing some research!" laughs Sullivan. "After a while, it became clear that I didn't have the authority to take all that symbolism and put it into some other context without more consultation." Most New Zealanders are used to the Maui legends being presented as entertaining children's stories. How do the authors feel about converting an oral tradition of storytellling into a new form all over again, this time a visual one? If you have 12 people sitting around a campfire, listening to these stories, then you get 12 different images coming from all these verbal metaphors and descriptions," says Slane. "It's like we're just two of those listeners around the fire, showing the pictures the story's created in our heads." Concludes Sullivan reverently: "We're just Maui's progeny."
Maui’s Tale In Graphic Detail.
WK Hastings is a Wellington writer and critic. Dec 1996 The Dominion
What do you give a teenaged skateboard dude who is into global youth culture for Christmas? A book? You’ve got to be kidding. A book about indigenous Aotearoa history? Get real.
What about a “graphic novel” that’s got kneecappings, slaves called “maggots, self-mutilation, hints of incest, and a man who climbs into a giant vagina? Perfect.
Chris Slane (cartoonist) and Robert Sullivan (poet) tell the story of Maui in a graphic novel. Graphic novels are not read like books. They have to be taken, and reviewed on their own terms. They require a more roving eye and a holistic approach to gathering information from text and pictures. They impress the reader as art as much as straight textual narrative....
Graphic novels, however, speak most loudly to teenagers and twenty-somethings, and this graphic novel is the perfect way to inculcate Maori legend into global youth.
Sullivan certainly keeps the momentum up in the text. The characters often speak very modern English. On an expedition to slow down the sun, one of Maui’s brothers is worried that they will be “fried like chips”. The narrative is carried by the characters, with very little voice-over from on high.
Slane’s drawing is confidently angular, and gives an edgy, sharp feel to thousand-year-old tales. It is surprisingly dark drawing- many panels are as much as 30 per cent black ink- but this suits the subtly shaded flat colouring. This is much better than attempting to mimic a stereotypical Maori artist style.
Bill Paynter’s lettering is crisp and unlike many graphic novels, there is a wonderful absence of exclamation points! ( Handwriting by Slane, font by Paynter - CS) Mix sharp art, add pacy, witty writing, mix in good technical layout and colour and you get something more than is ingredients. best of all, maui exposes what I never knew to be an earthy, lusty, violent rip-roaringly good story to much wider, younger non-Maori audience.
The story is not just good because it is maori and it is not special because it is graphic. Both the story and the way it is told can hold their own anywhere with examples of a great tale well delivered in this medium. This is a deceptively sophisticated little number.