My name is Erik Peterson and I am a Master's student of English at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. I am doing a research project on comic books and graphic novels written and drawn by, and featuring, Native Americans. If you have time available to answer a few questions about your work with "Peace Party," your contribution would be greatly appreciated. As you know, there are very few comic books or graphic novels that appropriately feature Native Americans and Native American issues and "Peace Party" will be a focal point of the project.
The Q&A interview
First, I would like to thank you very much for your time. Your contribution to this project is greatly appreciated by myself and will hopefully become a part of a larger movement to bring graphic novels and comics written by, and featuring, Native Americans into the scope of serious scholarly consideration.
To begin, I would like to ask what inspired and led up to the creation of “Peace Party?” What brought your attention to the need for accurate Native American representation in the comic book industry?
A decade-plus later, I decided to try writing my own comic book. I thought of doing something about the Greek gods, but someone said that was old hat. I remembered reading about the Hopi ("people of peace") and realized we had our own "foreign" culture in our midst. I thought about those two costume designs and decided they'd make good Native superheroes. Writing about them would give me a chance to critique mainstream America, its cowboy-style heroes, and its self-oriented values.
Nevertheless, I continue to believe there's a market for intelligent, socially-conscious comic books. The key will be reaching beyond the standard comics markets to people interested in this type of material. With a lot of work and some luck, I think it's doable.
Research and website
I gingerly approached some Indians--individuals more than groups--about doing a Native-themed comic. Some doubted that a non-Indian like me could do it without stereotyping and offending their people. Others saw the need for good comics and were cautiously encouraging. A few agreed to join my Board of Advisors, which was a big confidence boost.
Initially I planned to save the e-mails I wrote about PEACE PARTY and post them as content. But I kept finding connections between what I was doing and broader political, social, and cultural issues. For instance, we denigrated and stereotyped Indians for 500 years and we're doing the same with blacks, gays, immigrants, Muslims, and so forth. Our violent approach to solving the "Indian problem" is the way we approach all our problems--our "wars" on poverty, drugs, terrorism, and so forth.
I kept writing about these things, debating with people online, and I posted the material to share my thoughts. So my site kept growing with sections on PEACE PARTY, comic books, Native stereotypes, other Native subjects, stereotyping in general, multiculturalism, culture wars, violence, and war and terrorism. I've continued this approach with my Newspaper Rock blog, Facebook pages, and Twitter.
Writing about Indians
I've gotten more negative comments from my website and blog. Occasionally people will say things like, "Who are you to write about Indians? You have no idea what's it's like to be one, no right to your opinion. You don't even care about Indians, you're just trying to sell your comic book." Etc.
Ironically, people occasionally mistake me for an Indian and say things like, "Why do you hate whites/Christians/Americans? Your people lost, get over it. Quit complaining and find something productive to do." Etc.
I've been working in the Native media the last 10 years as well as building my website and blog. So now a lot of people know me and where I'm coming from. I'd say the vast majority of Indians appreciate and support my work. They understand the difference between a genuine friend and a phony who's in it for himself.
People are still doing socially-conscious comics--for instance, Johnson and Pleece's INCOGNEGRO. But I don't see many of them, and the ones I see often aren't as good. These days the Big Two companies (Marvel and DC) aren't doing a lot of interesting things. And it's hard to keep up in general since comics are getting prohibitively expensive.
Of course, Native people are writing and drawing comics also (see below). These people tend to address the cultural and historical issues they were born with. But they reserve the right to tell mindless stories about vigilantes, vampires, and zombies too. <g>
The future of the field
Because of the demographics, there'll always be more non-Natives doing Native-themed comics. Some will be entertaining and enlightening, while others will be stupid and stereotypical. So you get everything from SKINWALKERS, RED PROPHET, and SCALPED to COWBOYS & ALIENS, RIPCLAW, and THE FOURTH HORSEMAN.
Until that happens, Native creators will have the same trouble I'm having in drawing attention to our comics. Therefore, we have to work smarter and use the opportunities available to us. Market our comics through blogs and social media. Put them online, on e-book readers and cellphones, etc. Get grants and partner with tribes to tell their stories in graphic form. Convince the wealthier tribes to sponsor more arts and entertainment products, including comic books.
Despite the obstacles, the future is bright. Blockbuster movies are making comics more socially acceptable. Technology is making them easier to create and publish. And the "browning" of America is making people more receptive to the idea of Native heroes. Things can't get much worse than the stereotypical claptrap we've seen in the past, so they have to get better.
For more of my deathless words, see My Racebending Interviews and Sheyahshe and Schmidt on the Radio. For more on the subject in general, see The Best Indian Comics.