Comics and cartoons have existed for centuries, but it wasn’t until the arrival of Superman in 1938 that comic books soared to popularity in the U.S.
For many decades, Indigenous people weren’t well represented in comic books, but that’s no longer the case. In fact, many Indigenous storytellers today are being drawn to comic books, because they offer the opportunity to meld storytelling, tribal history, and artistic expression.
Lee Francis IV, a descendent of the Laguna Pueblo, owner of Red Planet Books & Comics, and Indigenous Comic Con organizer, said that comics books aren’t far off from some tribes’ storytelling traditions. In an interview with the Associated Press Lee said: “I don’t want to speak for all Native folks… but I think this visual storytelling [seen in comic books] harks back to our own stories and petroglyphs — rock art — [which] ties it back to our ancestors.”
These days Indigenous stories are getting a chance to shine. In November 2020, Marvel launched Indigenous Voices #1, an anthology which includes stories from a diverse group of Native storytellers and artists, including Jeffrey Veregge (Coastal Salish), Weshoyat Alvitere (Tongva), Rebecca Roanhorse (Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo) and Darcie Little Badger (Lipan Apache).
While some of these individuals didn’t start out in comics – Rebecca Roanhorse and Darcie Little Badger were already both accomplished novelists – they understand the power their voices carry, because of how comics impacted them when they were young.
In Indigenous Voices #1, Darcie Little Badger created a story about an X-Men character, Dani Moonstar, a Northern Cheyenne superheroine. Darcie spoke to Marvel.com about Dani’s impact on her when she was young. According to Darcie, when Dani once faced down death, who took the form of a cowboy, it was really powerful. Darcie said having “Dani challenge Cowboy Death, [it felt like it was] cowboy vs. Indians, [and] colonization and genocide vs. resistance and survival. Of course, Dani won the fight. As a young Native reader, I cheered her victory.”
There’s a whole world of Indigenous comics beyond the big names, like Marvel and DC. For example:
- Moonshot is an anthology featuring dozens of Indigenous writers and artists retelling traditional stories alongside stories of Indigenous futurism
- Kagagi: The Raven is an Algonquin superhero. It also became an animated TV series in Canada, including a version that had 100% Algonquin language dialogue
- 7 Generations follows a Plains Cree family through 7 generations of history up to modern day
- Deer Woman is an anthology of stories about Native American Women’s survival, empowerment, and healing
- Shout Out is an anthology series featuring LGBTQ2S stories, including a Two-Spirit story, called “The Fisher and The Jeweler”
These stories reflect our communities’ histories, values, struggles, hopes, and resilience. If you are looking for a window into our ancestors’ mindsets or a connection to Native writers and artists today, comic books may be a great place to start.
Additional Resources to Check Out
- Mazinbiige: The Indigenous Comic Book Collection at the University of Manitoba
- Red Planet Comics & Books
- Taking Back the Narrative Through Native American Comic Books
- Native Trailblazers Podcast: #BlackLivesMatter & a Native connection & Indigeneity at Marvel comics
- Red Man Laughing Podcast: Indigenous Comic Book Roundtable
- Indigenous Comics Articles and Interviews @ Ad Astra Comix
- 15 Beautiful Indigenous Comic Books and Video Games for Kids