The Indi­gen­erds are com­ing!

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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

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