Biography: Andrea Grant

Andrea Grant, The Pin-Up PoetA young woman wakes up after what she thinks was a particularly fitful night's sleep to discover that, in reality, she has been in a coma for seven years, hospitalized after a vicious attack by a strange, shadowy creature in a New York back alley left her inches from death. She returns to a world that's distinctly different from the one she left: the rough New York neighborhood she lived in has gentrified and people carry personal computers in their pockets. She's different, too; she asks for a cigarette, though she'd never smoked before the accident. Friends who used to share her life have grown up, gotten married and moved on, and every night her dreams become more vivid – feeling not so much like suggestions from her unconscious as an actual place that she visits. She sees herself crossing a strange river, confronting a woman in a red cloak. She sees her grandfather – a victim of a similar attack when she was a girl – pleading for her help.

This is the story of Minx, a new graphic novel by Andrea Grant that deftly blends the folklore of Grant's own Native American heritage with Greek mythology, Taoist philosophy and the classic archetypes developed by Joseph Campbell. The result is a work that explores the power of legend and myth -- while also being a dizzying, ur-realist adventure. It finds Grant carrying on the tradition of her people, using comics as a way of preserving the old myths and narratives of her heritage in a contemporary format. "In a lot of ways, the current shift from the print to the digital medium reminds me of how so many First Nation stories got lost in the transition from oral history to print," Grant says. "There's an urgent need right now to share those narratives with the world in a contemporary, accessible format."

In that way, Minx is also Grant's own story, a kind of allegory that mirrors her own passage out of darkness into a greater discovery of both herself and her history. Her accomplishments are many and diverse: in 2001, she began the 'zine Copious as a showcase for her poetry; over the years, it's evolved to become an all-encompassing web publication featuring original writing, photography and artwork. She's a respected model and an adventurous artist, one who blends photography with poetry and sound recordings to create immersive, multi-dimensional work. In 2009, she published The Pin-Up Poet through her own Copious Amounts Press, a book that pairs noirish photos of Grant, portraying a number of different characters, with imagistic poetry that offers insight into the women's identities or predicaments.

But as accomplished as this resume is, like the protagonist of Minx, it took Grant a long time to unlock her inner life. Born in Vancouver into a family of Jehovah's Witnesses, Grant found herself growing increasingly wary of the church's teachings, a skepticism that grew deeper as her father began to explore his own lineage. "My father began rediscovering his Native roots later in life," she explains, "he left the religion and had a kind of shamanistic breakdown, and he remembered things that his father had taught him as a kid, which filtered down to me."

Grant eventually left both the religion and the Pacific Northwest, relocating to New York to concentrate on her art. The concept for Minx developed over a period of several years (the name appears as an alias as early as a 2001 issue of Grant's 'zine Copious), gradually expanding to include roles for many of Grant's friends, and to draw a greater level of focus on Dreamtime – the parallel dimension Vivian – who will later rediscover her identity as the superheroine Minx -- visits while she is asleep.

That concept also comes from Grant's past: Native Americans believe that when you sleep, you actually visit a world just as rich as the one you inhabit while awake. Vivian's identity in Dreamtime – and what it is she has to accomplish while she's there – will be revealed over the course of the next several books. Throughout, Grant expands on the notions of heritage, personal choice and identity, using Vivien/Minx's adventures as a way to explore the notion of loyalty to one's tribe, and being true to your past while confronting the obstacles that lie ahead.

"What I hope is interesting about Minx is that the characters are flawed humans struggling to find their own path," Grant says. "So they might care about each other, and they might connect with each other, but when things are dire, they might also betray each other. I think there are some elements that aren't typical of comic-book storytelling, but which are prevalent in Aboriginal legends."

Minx spikes a thoughtful consideration of mythology with moments of bone- chilling suspense -- Grant's admitted love of Neil Gaiman's Sandman and Joe Linsner's Dawn can be felt in many of its vivid passages – but ultimately it is about one woman's journey, both across dimensions and into her own past.

"A lot of this is about returning to tribe, remembering where you're from," Grant explains. "It's about going back and revisiting your familial origins, and realizing the larger scope of why you end up somewhere mythologically."

"Mythology is portrayed in a lot of comics," Grant explains. "But I hope when people read Minx they also get a sense of the modern Native. Outside of Sherman Alexie, there aren't a whole lot of writers who are sharing the contemporary struggles of Native people. I wanted to use Minx to show how racial identity, and the day-to-day culture of Native people, is more complicated than the stereotypes we've all grown up with." And, in reading about Vivian, Grant hopes perhaps people can find a bit more of themselves. "I'd like in some way to inspire people," she says, "and to show that if you follow your own path, there's a redemption."

 

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