The Indigenerds are coming!
Native Realities and Indigenous Comic Con
This month, Santa Fe and Albuquerque will play host to parts of what organizers are claiming is the first Indigenous Comic Con in the world. “Indigenerds,” as comics publisher and Laguna Pueblo member Lee Francis calls them, aren’t just Native Americans who are obsessive fans of Star Wars or Game of Thrones. Rather, they are just as likely to be the Indian and nonIndian fans who follow the alternative universe of Native American-created comics like Super Indian,
Captain Paiute, and Deer Woman. Francis is publisher of Native Realities Press, which produces comics and comic art made by American Indians. Much of the work refracts traditional sci-fi and superhero material through an indigenous lens. Starting Nov. 18 in Albuquerque, Francis will helm Indigenous Comic Con, a three-day festival celebrating independent Native presses alongside big pop-culture exports such as Jeffrey Veregge, a Port Gamble S’Klallam tribal member who is the creator of
Red Wolf, Marvel’s first Native American comic series. On Friday, Nov. 11, a week before the Albuquerque expo, Santa Fe plays host to a more intimate art exhibit, held in conjunction with Indigenous Comic Con, when Native Realities: Superheroes of Past, Present, and Future, opens at Form & Concept gallery. The show pairs work by established Native American comic artists alongside the comic-book creations of teachers and grade-school students at Zuni Pueblo.
Over the last school year, the children narrated and illustrated comic stories that celebrate the workaday “superheroes” in their community. “We encouraged the Zuni students to think about the everyday superheroes in their life,” Francis said. “Your mechanic, your water delivery man, your school teachers are heroes solving problems every single day. We also asked students to think in comic-book terms about how they would solve a crisis happening in the Zuni community.” For example, one sixth-grade girl created Yucca Girl, a comic superhero who brings rain to Zuni gardens. In a press release, she described how the character coalesced out of the yucca basket-weaving she had been doing to grieve her sister’s death. The
Zuni comic project came out of a joint initiative by tribal leaders, Creative Startups — a Santa Febased incubator for art entrepreneurs — and the University of New Mexico’s Indigenous Design and Planning Institute.
Native Realities will also feature the books and large-scale prints of several American Indian comic artists. Arigon Starr (Kickapoo) will have panels on display from her Super Indian comic series. Unlike other comics, the series had its debut as a 2007 broadcast radio show with over-the-top theatrics that borrowed heavily from the Adam West-era Batman TV show of the 1960s. Super Indian became a web comic four years later and a print comic just last year, using slapstick and satire to show Native humor and explore real community issues. One of Starr’s Super
Indian stories, “The Curse of Blud Kwan’Tum,” follows a young Hispano man in contemporary Northern New Mexico who, 400 years later, still seethes with rage at Native Americans for the Pueblo Revolt. Her “Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers” retells the lesser-known history of Cpl. Solomon Louis and the Choctaw code talkers deployed by American forces in World War I. The strip splices battlefield action and dispatches from a forgotten time in American history when Choctaws and other American Indians were still denied full U.S. citizenship and were unable to vote in state and federal elections.
On a more playful level is the work of Jonathan Nelson, a Diné artist who began drawing stories about Jonesy, a talking Navajo sheep, while he was an art graduate student at the University of Arizona. In The Wool of Jonesy, released last month by Native Realities Press, the late-adolescent sheep — he just graduated from high school — ambles around the reservation near the farming community of Hogback, New Mexico, trying to make sense of his future. He shears sheep, outfits himself in turquoise jewelry, and performs as a DJ. The comic reflects Nelson’s upbringing in a family of weavers, where he learned to butcher and shear sheep as well as spin wool.
The framing of the Native American experience in comic-book terms can be off-putting to American Indians who aren’t familiar with the genre, Francis said. “We’ve gotten some pushback on this, mostly from people who haven’t actually read the books. We live in a really visual age where people are attuned to images and are very attuned to issues of cultural appropriation.”
But Native Realities Press is coming to prominence at a time when the comic world has grown increasingly diverse. Comic cons specific to African American, Latino, and gay fans are now a regular feature. Native American comics in particular are having a moment in the sun: Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics
We encouraged the Zuni students to think about the everyday superheroes in their life. Your mechanic, your water delivery man, your school teachers are heroes solving problems every single day. — comics publisher Lee Francis (Laguna Pueblo)
Collection (Alternate History Comics Inc.) was named a Best Book of 2015 by School Library Journal, the world’s largest reviewer of books for young people. The same year, Phoenix’s Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art mounted an exhibition titled Super Heroes: Art! Action! Adventure!
“You can take a variety of Indian stories and situations and add zombies. After all, they’re doing that with all of Western literature anyway,” Francis said, referring to the 2009 book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Quirk Books). “As a publisher and a comic con, we’re trying to hit that whole well of popular culture out there. Superheroes, sci-fi, video games, posters, and toys.”
Fans of the Santa Fe exhibition would do well to consider a trip to Albuquerque for the weekend festival. From its stream of Native actors in sci-fi and comic films, to panels on surviving a zombie attack on the rez, to screenings of Star Wars dubbed in the Navajo language, the event promises everything that comes with a comic con — down to the cosplay. “Some people will be in cosplay as characters from Native American comics. And we always love to see Native kids dressed up as Spiderman and Superman,” Francis said. “Just one rule, though: We don’t want to see any Tontos — especially the Johnny Depp version.”
Above, Arigon Starr: Super DAPL, 2016, digital illustration; below, Jonathan Nelson: Farm Wars: Friends & Foes, 2016, acrylic on canvas; opposite page, Jon Proudstar: Tribal Force Pin Up (detail), 2016, digital illustration
Nikki Tsabetsaye: Kira, 2016, colored pencil and ink on paper