Two-fisted tales of suspense showcasing fantastic heroes and villains interacting with gods old and new have long been a part of Native American Culture. As the first widely accessible mass media, comic strips and comic books were consumed by Indian people as a recognizable and legitimate form of storytelling. Cultural stories filled with humor, adventure, the macabre and the fantastic told through voice and pictures have always been an indigenous tradition. Today’s Native American scribes, emboldened with millennia-old cultural traditions blended with new methods of expression and life in the 21st Century, are reclaiming stereotypes found in earlier comic art depicting Indians as savage, war-like primitives or trusty yet docile sidekicks.
As an art form, comics are poorly understood, under analyzed, and under-utilized. Created to be disposable yet widely read, comics are often dismissed as primitive and juvenile. Nevertheless, a generation of Native artists has embraced comics as an expressive medium. It seems natural that this marginal art would appeal to an oft-marginalized people, for both have been regarded at times as a primitive and malignant presence on the American landscape.
Using images and art spanning from the 13th century to contemporary works, Comic Art Indigène examines how American Indian artists articulate identity, politics, and culture through the kinetic expressions of sequential art. The exhibit begins with the image of the red, white and blue All American Man, a shield carrying warrior pictograph of the Pueblo II period (carbon dated to ca. 1290), and is contrasted to an image of that other red, white and blue shield hurling hero, Captain America as depicted by Jim Steranko. Traditional media such as ceramics, beadwork and painting are represented however the subject matter may shock and surprise those expecting standard romanticized scenes of Native life.
Inspired by the unique medium of comics and using its icons, tropes and dynamism, this is a new world of American Indian art. A marvelous age full of the brash excitement first seen on newsprint a century ago, sometimes unrefined, even crude at times, but never sterile.
Comic Art Indigène
Comic Art Indigène
Comment: For more on the subject, see Jason Garcia's Tewa Tales and Comic Books Featuring Indians.
Below: Apache Speedy. Douglas Miles (San Carlos Apache/Akimel O'Odham), Acrylic on 7-ply maple wood, 2003.