Dyck’s Shelterbelts (Conundrum, May) offers a complex portrait of a Manitoba Mennonite community told in spare comics short stories.
Did you draw these stories intending to collect them in a single volume?
Initially they were drawn as separate stories picking a different topic to wrestle with, but I did have a longer view. I was inspired by Winesburg, Ohio and other texts that treat the short story as something more holistic. I started self-publishing these in volumes of three, then when I got a publisher interested in it as a graphic novel, in the ensuing years I filled it out to a total picture of this community.
Can you tell me a little bit about how the style is designed to suit the narrative?
There’s a very rigid grid I used throughout; I never deviate from the square panel that can be subdivided up to four ways. I was thinking early on how that mirrored the way land is parceled into sections and quarter sections, mimicking the gridded farmland. The invisible architecture might not be immediately obvious to readers but that’s the way it is with landscape. You don’t notice things when you’re inside of them.
Mennonites are a minority, but you set the book in a place where they are a large portion of the town. How do you think this affects your characters?
Mennonites might consider themselves a religious minority but in many ways are part of the white settler majority. Increasingly, a lot of people with Mennonite backgrounds are recognizing themselves as part of the settler state. The characters are negotiating that differently. For some of them, both the rural and religious environment is something to overcome and struggle against. For others, it’s the world they’ve always known and they feel besieged by outside forces that are trying to chip away at their identity.
Your work takes religion very seriously even when it questions or critiques it. How do you navigate that?
That’s always something I’ve wanted to represent well. Religion is not a static thing. Every person goes through various phases in their lives and their proclivities change. I wanted to show a range even in a very small community where presumably everyone’s got a similar background and there’s still so much difference. You have those for whom religion is a fixed set of rules and for others it can be a really liberating force. I wanted to give a good faith representation of religion for people who use it to express what’s most valuable to them.