Ink and Blood
Jason Aaron on SCALPED:I haven’t gotten any kind of negative responses from Native peoples. I'm sure there are negative responses out there. I guess they’re just less likely to email me. On the other hand, I got a lot of positive responses from Native Americans across the country. A lot of people just celebrate the fact that it’s set on a modern day reservation. I guess most people feel that it's on a setting that has been ignored for so long.
Comment: So (some) Native people like SCALPED because it's set on a modern reservation. Have any of them actually praised it as an authentic look at such reservations?
I "celebrate" the fact that SCALPED is one of the few Native-themed comics set on a reservation, too. But comics such as A HERO'S VOICE and DARKNESS CALLS offer a much richer portrayal of rez life.
I've heard a couple Natives criticize SCALPED as stereotypical. Sorry they weren't able to make their views known to Aaron, but that's what I'm here for.The history of the plains Indians which I think most people who conjure a Native American into their head they will think of [is] Crazy Horse and the history of Lakota, the plains Indians. And all that leads to the history of the Pine Ridge reservation and the struggles there. So it just seemed like the natural setting to have this book set in South Dakota.
Comment: In other words, Aaron and the rest of America think of Indians in stereotypical terms. Aaron is consciously using and playing off those stereotypes to sell his stories.No, nothing about the book am I trying to say this is how I view Native American people. I certainly don’t think all tribal leaders are as corrupt, brutal and vicious as Red Crow is portrayed.
Comment: So Aaron isn't a racist himself, even if his portrayal of Indians is arguably racist. That's the classic Mel Gibson/Michael Richards defense.Because it is a very brutal, no nonsense book that focuses on the more sensationalized aspects but at the same time we are not trying to do a book that caters to stereotypes. ... Even the worst characters in scalped I think will be fleshed down. If anything this book would be a character drama as apposed to an all-out action tale. If it wasn’t, I would have no interest in doing it.
Comment: The "sensationalized" aspects are exactly the stereotypes that the book caters too. I guess Aaron thinks that by calling a stereotype "sensational," he can excuse it out of existence. Not while I'm around to call him on it.
A few critics who thought SCALPED #1 was problematical said to give the series a chance. I've read through SCALPED #1-3 and there's been no fleshing out [or down] of characters. The third issue is as stereotypical as the first one was.
Here are my thoughts on SCALPED from the same article:As much as Dennis praises Aaron's creation, Rob Schmidt offers a different opinion. Schmidt is creator of "Peace Party," a multicultural comic book featuring two Hopi/Pueblo cousins, published by Blue Corn Comics.
"I have mixed feelings," Schmidt said about Aaron's latest work. "They're calling it 'The Sopranos' on the reservation. It has a feel that sort of feels realistic, but at the same time, it's very exaggerated, very extreme, (compared) to many reservations I visited."
Schmidt, also a non-Native, describes his comic, "Peace Party," as a portrait of Natives that is free of myths and stereotypes. He believes "SCALPED" does not break Native stereotypes but instead reinforces them.
"I think (Aaron) is trying to sensationalize it," he said. "There are (reservation) problems but they're not all killing each other. There are good things going on too: schools, clinics and elders trying to preserve the traditions. Everywhere there is a balance, and don't think he shows a balance. He shows only the negative side."
Me: The history of the plains Indians which I think most people who conjure a Native American into their head they will think of [is] Crazy Horse and the history of Lakota, the plains Indians. And all that leads to the history of the Pine Ridge reservation and the struggles there. So it just seemed like the natural setting to have this book set in South Dakota.
You: In other words, Aaron and the rest of America think of Indians in stereotypical terms. Aaron is consciously using and playing off those stereotypes to sell his stories.
My response there was in answer to the question, "Why did you decide to set SCALPED in South Dakota?" I'm commenting on the richness of the setting, both in terms of 19th century history and more recent events. Somehow, all you get out of that is that I'm catering to stereotypes. Huh?
You: The "sensationalized" aspects are exactly the stereotypes that the book caters too. I guess Aaron thinks that by calling a stereotype "sensational," he can excuse it out of existence. Not while I'm around to call him on it.
The sensationalized aspects I was referring to are the action scenes and criminal elements. So I guess you're saying that any crime series involving Native Americans is automatically “stereotypical.” So in other words, SCALPED was damned in your eyes from the get-go. To each his own, but you should at least come out and say that.
You: So (some) Native people like SCALPED because it's set on a modern reservation. Have any of them actually praised it as an authentic look at such reservations? …I've heard a couple Natives criticize SCALPED as stereotypical. Sorry they weren't able to make their views known to Aaron, but that's what I'm here for.
I knew going in that SCALPED was the type of book that would polarize readers. I dealt with the same sort of thing on my last series, THE OTHER SIDE, which was set during the Vietnam War. Some Vietnam vets praised the book for its accuracy, while others didn’t like the more sensational (there’s that word again) aspects, like the elements of visual horror that were a part of the book. In the end though, the praise far outweighed the criticism. With SCALPED, I knew that a lot of readers would be uncomfortable with such a harsh potrayal of reservation life, and I welcome those people to contact me if they wish to voice their grievances. SCALPED is an ongoing series, meaning we hope to be around for a few years yet. If so, I’ll be able to address all different aspects of reservation life and to continue to craft the richest, most interesting characters I can.
Now I know this will shock you, Rob, but there are actually a lot of people, including some honest-to-goodness Native Americans, who dare to disagree with you on SCALPED. Believe it or not, your opinion is not the be-all end-all when it comes to the portrayal of Natives in popular culture. I’ve received emails from several Natives from all over the coutry, people who can relate elements of SCALPED to their own life and the world around them, people who applaud the fact that we’re doing such a frank and gritty book, people who love the series. But then, I suppose you’ll simply write these people off as “stereotypes,” just like you do anything else you don’t like.
I'm glad to see you're following my critiques, Jason. I'm sorry to see you're not getting much from them.
"Commenting on the richness of the setting"...is that what the thousands of people who previously used Plains Indians in their stories were doing? By commenting on the richness of the Plains Indians, you're ignoring the richness of the other 500-odd tribes. One might get the impression that only the Plains tribes are rich with history and culture. Which was and is my point.
And what is your actual comment on this richness...that Plains Indians were good but are now bad? That their reservations have become corrupt and crime-ridden? Really, I'd like to hear your comment, because I don't see any message deeper than that.
I'd say the message of your Plains setting is that these Indians represent all Indians. You've implied that yourself, when you told readers you wanted to show them what reservation life is like. In reality, you're not showing them rez life, you're showing them your "sensationalized" (i.e., grotesquely exaggerated and extreme) view of the poorest rez in the country. That doesn't tell them much about rez life in general.
I was referring to the "action scenes and the criminal elements" when I wrote:
Writer Aaron is kidding himself if he thinks people will learn about Indians from SCALPED. What they'll learn is that Indians are criminals, thugs, and lowlifes. In other words, that they're just as savage and uncivilized as they ever were. What a charming message that is.
So we're talking about the same thing. The problem is that my take on it is different from yours.
No, I don't claim every Native American comic featuring crime is stereotypical. PEACE PARTY has crime and violence in it and so do many Native-themed comics. Read my list of recommended comics and then tell me I'm criticizing every Native comic involving crime.
I've noted the stereotypical elements in SCALPED. As with your previous message to me, you didn't address the particulars. Therefore, my comments stand. I didn't prejudge SCALPED based on my biases, I judged it based on its content. Deal with that or don't, but be honest enough to acknowledge that the stereotypes are the issue.
A lot of things--Apocalypto, Columbus, Peter Pan, Indian mascots--get praised by mainstream America. That doesn't mean their praise is right and my criticism is wrong. Again, I've provided a long list of specific criticisms. Where are your responses?
For instance, what's your excuse for putting a totem pole in SCALPED #3 and on SCALPED #4's cover? Artistic license? An editorial decision beyond your control? I would've refused to continue the series if someone forced a blatant mistake like that on me. Yet you don't even mention it.
If you've gotten praise from Natives, great. Post it so we can see it and discuss it. Again, I question whether they think SCALPED is an accurate depiction of today's rez life or they're just glad to see present-day Indians in a comic. These are two hugely different things, as I trust you'll agree.
Many Native people have also praised Indian mascots. I addressed this paradox in my posting on Team Names ad Mascots. As one writer put it:
"One-dimensional representations of Native Americans are not only common, but thought to be 'no big deal' by most non-Native Americans. This apathetic attitude of society has often spread to the Native American community itself with many Native people unwilling to speak out against it for fear of being ridiculed by those who don't understand why these images are indeed a big deal."
My opinion may not be "the be-all end-all when it comes to the portrayal of Natives in popular culture," but I bet I have more credibility with Natives than you do. Certainly I've thought and written about the subject more than you have. Again, we have my specific criticisms and your lack of responses. Again, I suggest you deal with the situation.
I hope SCALPED gets better in the years to come. Alas, I won't be putting out more good money for it until it does. My question is why you didn't make your characters three-dimensional from the start, as did The Sopranos? Why is this some hazy goal rather than a reality now?
Finally, I'm happy to have this off-and-on dialog with you, Jason--even if we're not getting anywhere. I think it's useful because it illuminates a whole host of issues. I'm linking to all the commentaries I find on SCALPED. Are you?
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