When someone opens a comic book, turns on a video game or just watches TV, rarely is he or she greeted by Native American characters. And when those characters are present, they are frequently little more than stereotypes. The organizers of the first-ever Indigenous Comic Con seek to change that on the third weekend of November.
“The Indigenous Comic Con is a three-day festival and convention celebrating all things ‘Indiginerd’ and bringing together the worlds of comic books, graphic novels, games, film, television all with an indigenous perspective and to highlight the cool work that’s being done by indigenous people in pop culture,” says Lee Francis, director of the convention and CEO of Native Realities, a press that specializes in comic books representing indigenous cultures.
The convention boasts a number of guests, from film, television and video game stars like Jonathan Joss (“Parks & Rec,” “King of the Hill”) and Kaniehtiio Horn (“Supernatural,” “Assassins Creed III”) to comic book creators such as Jon Proudstar (“Tribal Force”), Arigon Starr (“Super Indian”) and Theo Tso (“Captain Paiute”). Aside from their contributions to pop culture, all the guests have one thing in common: They are members of tribes indigenous to North America.
“We’re trying to keep a good expansion of the concept of indigenous,” Francis says. “We were very careful in naming this. It’s not the Native American Comic Con – it’s the Indigenous Comic Con because we really want to include a lot of the folks that are doing this work all over the world.”
Navajo artist Ryan Singer, for instance, grew up near Tuba City, Arizona, and now lives in Albuquerque. In his words, he “uses pop culture and sci-fi imagery and kind of mash it up with native culture and then (he tries) to find different meanings or different ways they can coexist together.”
The results are paintings featuring characters from franchises such as “Star Wars” re-enacting famous scenes but against the backdrop of the Four Corners and the reservation.
One of the guests audiences might be the least familiar with may also be the most interesting, Francis says. Allen Turner, a game designer and storyteller who has worked for Disney and other big companies, has also designed the only native tabletop role playing game, Ehdrigohr.
“We’ve got game designers that are going to be here, so if you like video games, if you like table-top games, this is a really good chance to come on down,” Francis says. “Whether you’re native or not native, I think it’s a really good opportunity because you kind of get to see a really different side of what’s being done in this ... amazingly diverse and incredibly eclectic pop culture world we exist in.”
As with most comic conventions, costumes are welcome and encouraged, though the con would like people to be considerate of the fact that it is a family event in addition to being culturally sensitive.
“We certainly don’t want everybody coming as Apache Chief or as the most recent iteration of Tonto,” Francis says.
In addition to panels, booths and discussions appealing to geeky teens and adults, the convention will provide younger children with areas to work on costumes, movies, book readings and musical instruments with which to play.