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So I draw because I want to talk to the world. And I want the world to pay attention to me. I feel important with a pen in my hand. I feel like I might grow up to be somebody important. An artist. Maybe a famous artist. Maybe a rich artist.
This quotation, which occurs in the first chapter, “The Black-Eye-of-the-Month Club,” explains Junior’s relationship to cartooning. The cartoons that pepper the text of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian are actually by the artist Ellen Forney, so the book is a collaborative project between Alexie, who authored the text, and Forney, who drew the cartoons. Alexie began the book as a memoir, but ultimately decided that an autobiographical novel was more fitting for his material. Some would argue that Junior’s relationship to cartoons, which is one of the few media that Alexie has not pursued in his professional life, is a stand-in for Alexie’s adolescent relationship toward writing stories and poems. The passage shows how Junior would like to use his art as a springboard to a better life. But drawing is not just a way for Junior to cope with and escape the challenges he faces on the reservation. Drawing, as Junior explains elsewhere gives Junior a means to honor his friends and family. Junior’s drawing, therefore, is not just a selfish or self-involved pursuit. Drawing gives Junior his particular way of contributing to his community.