March 10, 2011

My biography and artist's statement

A gallery in Massachusetts recently asked to display some PEACE PARTY pages as part of a "graphic book show." The person who contacted me also wanted a biography and artist's statement.

That gave me an excuse to update my biography and create an artist's statement. Here they are:

Rob Schmidt—BiographyRob Schmidt has worked as a full-time freelance writer since 1993. He’s published hundreds of business and computer articles, political and cultural essays, and his first book, The National Jobline Directory (Bob Adams, Inc., 1994).

As a writer in the Indian and gaming fields, he works part-time on, the Internet news source. He has written for Casino Journal, Indian Gaming Business, and Indian Country Today. He’s a regular contributor to other websites and blogs and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

Besides writing and editing PEACE PARTY, his flagship comic book, he writes on multicultural topics for his Newspaper Rock blog and Indian Comics Irregular newsletter. He’s written and published several comic-book stories, short stories, and one-shot cartoons. Other fiction projects in the works include screenplays and novels.

Before this, Rob spent nine years in the corporate world. He was a business programmer/analyst for Northrop Corporation and a library systems analyst for the Los Angeles Times. He continued writing and drawing during these jobs.

He earned an MBA and an MA in Library Science from the University of Chicago in 1983. He has a BA in Mathematics from Occidental College, where he graduated cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. He has studied multicultural and Native American issues on his own for decades.

A non-Native with no Cherokee princesses in his background, Rob was born and raised in the Los Angeles area.
Rob Schmidt—Artist’s Statement
The mythology of America is based on the denial of the indigenous.Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe), speech, 9/28/93
The theme of PEACE PARTY, and all the projects underway at Blue Corn Comics, is multicultural stories featuring Native Americans. Probably the question I get asked most often is: “Why write about Indians?” (as Native people usually call themselves).

When I was casting about for a comic-book project years ago, it struck me that Indians were involved in, sometimes at the center of, many of our cultural arguments: “family values,” religion, poverty, the environment, the role of government, racism, and multiculturalism. Writing from their viewpoint, or trying to, would allow me to question America’s dominant cowboy mentality. It would let me challenge “a culture that confirms the stereotype of the individual as solitary gunslinger and society as a hostile frontier,” as one Los Angeles Times article put it.

I’m hardly the first person to think of this approach. Tall Oak, a Narragansett quoted in the documentary 500 Nations, calls Indians the conscience of America. “The lesson,” he says, “is to realize the value of an alternative perspective. And that is why we are here. That is why the Creator allowed some of us to remain, in spite of all the attempts to destroy us.”

From the first page of PEACE PARTY #1, I wanted to confront readers’ expectations. Rather than the Biblical origin they’re used to, I gave them a Pueblo Indian origin. And I presented it as if it were the one, true “genesis” of the universe. I wanted to shake them up and say, “Hey, the Western view of things isn’t the only way to look at them. Other views are just as valid.”

In the first few pages, the three Indian characters—Billy, Drew, and Oliver—argue over nature. So much for the stereotype that Indians live in harmony with each other and the natural world, revering it and praying to it serenely. These Indians can’t even agree on a bird’s name, much less the sanctity of “Mother Earth.”

The characters banter and joke just like “regular” people. And use erudite quotes from the law and literature to make their points. This contradicts the common belief that Indians are simple-minded and stoic, staring blankly off into space, not far removed from their “savage” and “uncivilized” past. In reality, today’s Indians are articulate and educated; they’re doctors, lawyers, and teachers. Indeed, so were their ancestors, who built extensive civilizations, negotiated treaties and alliances, and performed complex rites and ceremonies.

The point isn’t that everyone should study Native history and culture—although that wouldn’t hurt. It’s that they should rethink their assumptions about who or what is the norm in our society. Is it a white man whose ancestors came over on the Mayflower (like mine)? Or someone whose ancestors came from Africa, Asia, or Latin America? Or whose ancestors have been here since the beginning? What makes the Western way the “right” way rather than just one way?

In short, my objective is to encourage people to question everything, especially their preconceived notions about what is right and wrong. Teaching people to think critically is perhaps the best contribution my comics and I can make to the national dialogue.

For more information, visit:
Comment:  To see the pages in question, go to PEACE PARTY #1. For more on the subject, see The Genesis of PEACE PARTY.

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