Excitement crackles off the pages of Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection, a handsomely produced book just out from AH Comics. The striking art and captivating stories by Indigenous authors and artists will appeal to adults in addition to the typical adolescent comic-book reader. Moonshot has a place in colleges, schools and libraries, as well as on individual bookshelves.
The title comes from a poem by superstar Cree singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie. In her poem, published in the book, she rejoices in the visionary framework of indigenous storytelling: “Off into outer space you go my friends / we wish you bon voyage / and when you get there we will welcome you again.” Sainte-Marie pokes fun at the false expectations and stereotypes often assigned to indigenous people: “I know a boy from a tribe so primitive / he can call me up without no telephone.”
The book’s Native contributors and others (some indigenous storytellers are paired with top non-Native comic-book artists) have no problem smashing tired stereotypes. In Moonshot’s 176 pages, you won’t find any of what award-winning Caddo comic-book author and historian Michael Sheyahshe calls “fringe-and-feathers Indians”—sepia-toned sidekicks for non-Native characters who are somehow better at being Native than their indigenous buddies. Instead, Moonshot’s stories feature complex Native characters, exhilarating action and thought-provoking lessons threaded through with humor.
The 13 comics published in Moonshot slip-slide along a continuum that arcs from the mythic past through the present to a sci-fi future. The storylines are either little-known or invented—“to help break down ideas of what Native spirituality and culture ‘should be,’” according to editor Hope Nicholson in a foreword to the volume. Importantly, she says, the book emphasizes the diversity of Native cultures.
The book also demonstrates the resilience of indigenous communities. “Here we are, in the here and now,” Sheyahshe writes in an introductory essay. “[By] telling our own stories…we demonstrate our cultural continuance.”
The collection opens with artist/author David Mack’s “Vision Quest: Echo.” In it, a deaf girl pushes the boundaries of communication in a way that puts her on a path to meaning and power. Words, line drawings, paintings and depictions of Indian sign language overlap on the pages, complementing and contending with each other. The girl struggles to “learn my own language to tell my own stories.” Then, she tells the reader, “you can understand, even if you don’t hear like me.”
Other stories offer intriguing looks at the origins of phenomena around us. David Robinson, who is Irish-Scottish-Cree, shows how stars came to light up the night sky, while Caddo storyteller Dayton Edmonds explains how we got the six months of warm weather we enjoy each year. In the last story of the book, by Anishinaabe-Métis-Irish video-game developer Elizabeth LaPensée, a boy is saved by spirits and is then able to save his sister, so they can “keep living the stories.”
The book’s top-notch production values—with saturated colors on heavy, glossy paper—showcase not just the stories, but the additional art interspersed among the chapters. Métis artist Stephen Gladue’s cover image, “Northern Crow,” as well as his “Thunderbird” and “Untitled,” explode with shards of color and energy. The curvaceous geometry of Port Gamble S’Klallam artist Jeffrey Veregge’s “Preserver” and “Harbinger” evokes a modern-traditional crossover style he has dubbed Salish Geek.
Moonshot ends with a chapter called “Sketchbook.” It lays out some of the creative teams’ collaborative process, as they developed the look of their sections. Early pencil sketches morph into colorful stylizations of fantastical characters, dreamscapes and futuristic objects like spaceships. If Moonshot hasn’t already inspired young Native comic-book makers to develop their own work, this section will ensure they do so—and guarantee that the stories continue.