Animator uses experience in comic book creation.
Steve Sanderson understands that suicide in the Aboriginal community is about more than high statistics. It's about more than the figures produced by Alberta Justice that indicate there were 458 suicides in Alberta in 2006, translating to 1.4 out of every 10,000 Albertans and up to 11 times higher than that in isolated Aboriginal communities.
It was his personal touch with suicide that resulted in the creation of The Darkness Calls, an anti-suicide comic book, which mixes folklore with a prototypical, awkward teenage boy named Kyle, who muses about ending his life.
"It was a story about an outcast. He was going through this one day that just piles up onto him to the degree that he was contemplating suicide," said Sanderson.
Where the folklore comes in is where an evil, flesh eating being named Weetigo and a shape-shifting trickster named Wesakechak are introduced as the battling polar opposites, and Kyle's life hangs in the balance.
"I'm Cree and I wanted to do something with two characters from Cree legends that I actually enjoyed as a kid," said Sanderson describing the inspiration for the story. However the inspiration didn't stop there. The character Kyle and the comic book were inspired by Sanderson's young cousin, 10 years Sanderson's junior.
"He (was) kind of having his rough teenage years. I was about to move out of the country and he got a hold of me and told me he was contemplating suicide," said Sanderson.
Immediately Sanderson went to his cousin and spoke with him about all the problems he was having.
"We talked and he told me what was going on and there was a whole bunch of horrible, horrible stuff going on in his life. I kind of knew the fact that he reached out, he was doing the right thing," said Sanderson. "He didn't want to die; he was just in a lot of pain."
Sanderson said that after talking about the pain it got better for his cousin and the pair grew close once again. But that particular event always stuck with Sanderson.
Years later, Sanderson created The Darkness Calls, in which Kyle is deeply troubled and Weetigo is doing his very best to push him over the edge. But Wesakechak, who is not necessarily a warrior himself, decides to battle for the life of Kyle. It turns out that Wesakechak cannot defeat Weetigo, it is only Kyle himself that can defeat Weetigo through believing in himself and refusing to die.
The story has become a unique inspiration for speaking about and confronting suicide and has even gone on to be used as a tool by the health profession.
"I just wanted to entertain people and bring that to the table in an entertaining form. If it inspires people to talk about it, to contemplate their issues then great," said Sanderson.
The Darkness Calls has grown since its inception in 2005 and as Sanderson understands has sold over 100,000 copies and has even been translated into other languages such as the Gitxsan in B.C.
Sanderson has also created stories for diabetes, staying in school, and most recently created something to shed light on gang violence, which draws its inspiration from the notorious Hobbema reserve.
THOMAS J BRUNER
Sweetgrass Staff Writer
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|Title Annotation:||HEALTH; Steve Sanderson|
|Author:||Bruner, Thomas J.|
|Date:||May 1, 2009|
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