Maui: Legends of the Outcast
A graphic novel by Chris Slane & Robert Sullivan

Article: From Maui to Darth Maul
Chris Slane’s comic adventures in Aotearoa have transported him to a galaxy far, far away...

Eight years ago the Godwit Press published Maui: Legends of the Outcast, a graphic novel by Chris Slane and Robert Sullivan. Slane was a political cartoonist who’d been designing puppets for TV. Sullivan was a poet of Ngapuhi/ Irish ancestry. Together their work proved a hit, winning accolades from as far away as the United States. The Comics Journal described the Maui book as a ‘gift from the gods’, finding it "difficult to believe that a book this elegant, bold and mature could simply materialize out of nowhere." Of course, it didn’t. Maui’s sophistication and elegance had much to do with Slane’s fluid artwork and keen sense of narrative imagery, developed over many years in the trade.

Slane had been introduced to cartooning at primary school when it was Carl Barks’ Disney artwork and the War Picture Library series that first got him hooked. "Going to a school friend’s house there was a cellar literally full of classic British war comics," Slane recalls. " My friend eventually got bored but I spent hours in there looking at the great detailed art."

Later, he showed up at Auckland University’s Craccum offices, filling the gaps in the copy with drawings on deadline night for then-editor Louise Chunn. After finishing a degree in Town Planning, Slane wrote and drew a cartoon book for Auckland Regional Council landscape architects which apparently sealed his fate once and for all. He dropped town planning and took up a career as a cartoonist. Slane has since won several Qantas awards for his cartoons and is currently editorial cartoonist for the NZ Listener. But the Maui book is his most sustained piece of comic artwork to date."At the time of working on Maui, I was reading Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave Mckean, Jaques Tardi, George Pratt, and I found Mike Mignola’s graphic style very compelling," Slane says.

Interestingly, it wasn’t the first time that the Maui character had been rendered as a comic hero. In the 1970s Dick Frizzel had been commissioned to do a series of Maui stories in comic form for the School Journals and Slane took the opportunity to look up the local pop art painter to see that he wasn’t repeating something that had already been done before. "Dick invited me to his studio and showed me his original boards for his Maui - fantastic draughtsmanship! He had been greatly impressed by the Marvel school of dynamic figure drawing," Slane recalls. "Frizzel approached Maui as a kind of Maori superman, whereas Robert and I wanted to emphasize Maui’s role as the outsider - a damaged spirit who returns in an human form to plague the society which rejected him. We wanted to get away from the view of the legends as simply fairy stories for children with a Maori flavour. Our reading of the symbolism pushed us in a darker and hopefully more dramatic direction."

New Zealand publishing requirements for the Maui book demanded a glossy hard-cover format suitable for bookshops and local libraries rather than the traditional paper-bound format of most American comics. This gave the finished production a classy European feel and flavour. "I greatly admired those European graphic albums," says Slane, whose luscious designs took full advantage of the book’s quality production values.

Eight years on, Maui is still selling overseas. Last year Slane did a deal with Steve Malley of Antipodes Publishing to distribute it in the United States. This was followed by an invitation to illustrate a story for Dark Horse’s Star Wars Tales series. "Lucas Films approved me after seeing the Maui book," Slane says. American writer, Christian Read scripted the story ('Nameless' in Star Wars Tales #10, 2001) which built upon the Darth Maul character originally devised for the Phantom Menace film. Slane set about to use what he’d learned on the Maui project to help bring the Star Wars universe to life.

More than any other cartoon work he’d done before, the Star Wars comic won the approval and respect of Slane's children. The job also posed some new and interesting challenges for the artist. "At first, the emphasis for me was just getting an existing character right from all angles, angles you never see in the film, while giving him my own twist," Slane says. "Next, I wanted to emphasise the uneasy predator-threat feeling you get looking at the movie Darth Maul - the camouflaged tiger stalking you in the jungle. In his case it must have been a red-coloured jungle planet, I imagine. In the background I added elements of an alien-kiwi bush as scenery."

Colours were rendered in the States by Guillia Brusco and Matt Hollingsworth, from one of the studios that colours Mike Mingola’s Hellboy, a key influence upon the look and feel of Slane's original Maui comic. You can see some of these pages on or visit the New Zealand cartoonists website on where Slane and other local editorial cartoonists showcase their portfolios, sell originals and help raise the general profile of the art form. May the force be with them.

By Tim Bollinger for Pavement magazine.

This comic has something for everyone. It's in the tres-hip hardcover
album format, so it looks like you're reading a Eurocomic or art book.
It's got fighting, disasters (fire, flood, famine), giant monsters,
nudity, trickery, and a superhero (who's not in spandex).
Seriously, though, this is a good book. It's a collection of myths
about the demigod Maui (who is evidently well-known through much of
the Oceania region, and is the one who is the namesake of the Hawaiian
island), weaving them together into a story of his life. Maui is the
Trickster figure in myths in this region, and he is shown bedeviling
divine personages and fighting great battles during his life. In the
process, many natural processes (like the frequency of the rising and
setting of the sun) and even their landscape are explained.

The writer, Robert Sullivan, joins together many legends about Maui,
and writes fairly decent dialogue, if a bit mixed at times (a blend of
slang-y, informal speech with more formal speech one often sees in
myths). He presents Maui as a devilish type who still shows his
divinity. The art is angular, almost blocky, and uses large amounts
of black as well as subtle color. Unlike some who use a lot of black,
however (Xander Cannon comes to mind), it isn't hard to tell what is
going on; the artist, Chris Slane, achieves a good balance and
clarity. The angular style reminds me somewhat of the style of one of
the Sandman artists, whose name is slipping my mind at the moment
(Hempel, perhaps?), but is excellent at creating a feeling of passion
and unreality. At first, I had trouble telling Maui apart from his
brothers, but this was probably because I was reading fast in my
eagerness (start by using the hairstyles, and you can move to the
different body shapes from there). The artist has a good sense of
pacing and "camera angles," and does a great job of telling this tale.

This was created in New Zealand, so it'll be hard to find. You can
try the publishing company (Godwit Publishing Ltd., 15 Rawene Road,
P.O. Box 34-683, Birkenhead, Auckland, New Zealand), or try ordering
it from a bookstore using the ISBN.

(C) 1998 Denise L. Voskuil-Marr rec.arts.comics.alternative

Maui’s Tale In Graphic Detail.
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.

WK Hastings is a Wellington writer and critic.
The Dominion Dec 1996

Review -Maui: Legends of the Outcast, by Robert Sullivan and Chris Slane.

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 aEuropean-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 capturingof 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.