With a growing number of Native people making comics and designing videogames as a way to revitalize their languages, one great way to break down stereotypes is a Native-centered event. The inaugural Indigenous Comic Con on November 18-20 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, hopes to do just that.
“There are a lot of Indigenerds out there,” said Indigenous Comic Con artistic director and Laguna Pueblo member, Dr. Lee Francis IV. “We joke about that word, but the idea that Native People, Indigenous People, get to participate in pop culture…We wanted to create a space of celebration and say ‘Hey. We are in these spaces.’ A lot of wonderful creators are doing some incredible work in these areas. It’s time to celebrate that.”
After a year of planning and a joint sponsorship between Francis’s Native Realities Publishing and A Tribe Called Geek, the organizers selected the November 18-20 date and the site of the comic con at Albuquerque’s National Hispanic Cultural Center, 1701 4th St. S.W. Francis said the NHCC has the facility requirements as well as a long history with hosting Native poetry and other indigenous workshops.
At press time, the keynote panelists scheduled are Jeffrey Veregge (Port Gamble S’Klallam), the artist for Marvel Comics’ Red Wolf, and Arigon Starr (Kickapoo), the creator of Super Indian Comics. Other events include an exhibition hall, live music and cosplay contests.
In the FAQ section of their website, there is a disclaimer about the cosplay and costumes that states “no Tontos or other Indigenous stereotypes.” Although this Comic Con will be fun, the panels will not shy away from serious subjects such as stereotypes, marginalization and the issue of Natives being “historicized.”
Mass media’s limited portrayals of Native people have, for the most part, found little variation in the world of comic books. In the cowboy and western comics of the 1950’s, Native people were in many cases the plug-in villains or limited to a Tonto type of role. Occasionally, there would be a Native hero such as Marvel Comics’ Ringo Kid, but the series was written to have a white father and an “Indian princess” mother for its main hero’s parentage. In rare cases, there would be a character like Thunderbird, a Native superhero who shared the bill with Storm and Wolverine in 1975’s Giant Size X-Men #1, or Dani Moonstar, whose storylines included X-Men, New Mutants and a S.H.I.E.L.D. leadership role.
“Our approach is to be very positive,” Francis said. “We’re looking for positive images. We’re vetting the folks that we want to come in. We’re not going to be bringing in folks that were in a random Indian movie. We want folks who are going to be thoughtful about the portrayals, whether they’re a comic book creator, an actor, someone doing games or science fiction. Being very thoughtful about the work that they’re putting into the world because of all these stereotypes and historicizations. The sheer number of folks we’re trying to get on panels and the conversations that we want to spark, I think, are going to address those negative representations of Indigenous people in pop culture.”
A term Francis uses is “Indigenous Futurism,” the idea that Native people are not simply past-tense in flashback storylines but instead are seen as people with a present and a future. “We are both present and we have a positive and productive future where we exist, where we thrive, and that’s what we want to show,” Francis said.
Tickets for the Indigenous Comic-Con are now on sale at their website, www.indigenouscomiccon.com, starting at $45.00 for a three-day pass.
“It’s a great way to celebrate us as Native superheroes,” Francis said as to why people should attend. “We get to be superheroes. We get to have all of this space that is ours. Like any great celebration, it’s a great way for us to get together, to celebrate the great work that other Native people are doing.”
Brian Daffron can be found on Twitter @briandaffron.