Alibi V.25 No.46 • Nov 17-23, 2016 

Culture Shock

Embrace Your Inner Indigenerd

The first ever Indigenous Comic Con

Dr. Lee Francis IV
Dr. Lee Francis IV, organizer of Indigenous Comic Con
Indigenous Comic Con

“One of my earliest memories is going to Duran's down here on Central … They had a comic book rack right inside the door, and when we'd go, I'd spin through the rack and my dad would let me get a comic. That's one of the earliest times I can remember—buying comics from Duran's.” Dr. Lee Francis IV described his first encounters with comic books and pop culture poetically—even if it did include a description of a first viewing of Predator at a young age, too. (“Looser times,” he explained.) As a poet, the director of Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers and the founder of Native Realities Press, Francis has a powerful connection to stories in their multitude of iterations. Yet, there was a disconnect for the member of Laguna Pueblo. “Growing up, I'd be looking for Native folks [in comics] and when a Native person would pop up—good or bad in terms of representation—I was on it immediately. I was so excited that that character was there.” That initial enthusiasm receded as he scrutinized the Native characters he saw portrayed in mainstream comics. “You start to peel away the onion and you're like, that character is horribly stereotypical, or that character is horribly objectified,” Francis explained. “I was so desperate for anything [showing] an Indigenous person in pop culture that I was grasping on to whatever I could.”

Having identified the relegation of Indigenous characters to the supporting cast, or to a narrow stereotype, the foundations for a celebration of the plurality of Indigenous identities in pop culture took shape in Francis' mind long ago. This year, that dream will be realized in the shape of the first ever Indigenous Comic Con, being held at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (1701 Fourth Street SW) from Friday, Nov. 18, to Sunday, Nov. 20. Featuring a host of Native American, First Nations and Indígena artists, writers, television stars and creators, game developers, comedians, musicians and creatives of all kinds, the Comic Con promises to articulate diversity and push back against the historicization of Indigenous people not just in comics, but in the media at large. Panel discussions will approach things like representation and the effects of Native mascots, Indigenous futurism and how to counter negative pop culture imagery, as well as things like how to survive the zombie apocalypse on the rez, rendering characters in ink, cosplay etiquette and what it's like putting together movies. Guests include actor Jonathan Joss of “Parks and Recreation,” “King of the Hill” and “The Magnificent Seven”; actress Kaniehtiio Horn of Assassin’s Creed III and “Supernatural”; Marvel artist Jeffrey Veregge; the creator of Super Indian, Arigon Starr; game designer Renee Nejo and many, many more. “I fan out over everyone,” Francis confessed.

“A whole generation of folks who grew up with the X-Men really understand the concept of prejudice and they could only understand that through comic books ...”

“A whole generation of folks who grew up with the X-Men really understand the concept of prejudice and they could only understand that through comic books,” Francis explained, musing on the hundreds of thousands of people he's seen streaming through San Diego for Comic Con, or filling venues in Denver for that city's take on the convention. With that said, “Comic books are definitely a viable opportunity to present mass media and to change minds.” And that's largely what it's about for Francis—“It's about how do we do the paradigm shift in pop culture? Saying we get to have superheroes … that aren't sidekicks, they're not saving their Captain America counterpart. They're fully formed, awesome individuals. [They're] astronauts, monster hunters, whatever, but they also get to have their own story. That's ultimately what it comes down to for me,” Francis said. “There's a lot of cool stories to tell.”

Those stories will abound at Indigenous Comic Con and make a resounding contribution to that shift—enunciating and celebrating the multiplicity of Native voices, stories, identities, interests and realities. “The mass population, the non-Native population, and I'll say the white population … get to pick and choose from the whole range of [stories],” Francis explained. “You get to be Captain America or Reed Richards or Iron Man or whatever. You get a choice. Native folks don't get a choice.” But at Indigenous Comic Con, Native people can see themselves reflected everywhere. Francis asked to remind people that everyone can celebrate that paradigm shift. “Everybody's welcome. It's a comic con. It's for everybody. Just know that when you come down you're going to see 99 percent Native faces, [because] that's what we want to highlight.” If you're doing cosplay, be respectful. Remember where you are, remember your audience, remember that this is for families. “We may have elders in the room .. and little ones in the house,” Francis clarified. “If you come in a headdress, we're probably going to ask you to take it off or to leave. I can only think of two comic book characters … that that would be an acceptable cosplay.” Come to listen, come to celebrate, come with respect, to support this space and more like it, buy the work of artists and other makers, listen to their stories, learn. “Come be an Indigenerd with us,” Francis summed up. Tickets are on sale now at indigenouscomiccon.com for $15-300.

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