It all started at the 2011 Phoenix Comicon. There, Native comic creators came together and built a support system by forming Indigenous Narratives Collective – a group that simply describes itself on Facebook as “what it looks like when Native Americans are in charge of the comic book universe: no shamans, no trackers, just Native superheroes. ‘Nuff said.”
“No shamans, no trackers, just Native superheroes.”
Since then, the idea for Indigenous Comic Con (ICC) has existed in one form or another, but this fall, the event will come to life for the first time ever. Spread out over three days – November 18 to 20 – the indigenerd meetup in Albuquerque will highlight comic books, video games, tabletop games, graphic novels, film and television, sci-fi and fantasy, and anything else indigenous.
With more than 1,000 people clicking the interested box on the Facebook event page, attendees suggesting potential activities (Native beard competition, anyone?), and organizers considering expanding its vendor area because it sold out all its standard booths by mid-June, it’s obvious there’s interest in this one-of-a-kind convention. But as Laguna Pueblo member Lee Francis – the 2016 director of Indigenous Comic Con – tells me, this is a leap of faith.
However, the fact that many find ICC appealing is not surprising, because indigenous communities are hungry for comics that accurately portray who they are. In at least two separate articles on Comics Alliance, James Leask has expressed his frustrations with mainstream comics’ representation of indigenous superheroes. He cites racist tropes and stereotypical names, as well as a lack of indigenous writers, as some of the most problematic issues. “You either get to be so ludicrously stereotyped that you wouldn’t look out of place in 1970s exploitation stories, or you lose any discernible element of aboriginal identity, whitewashed to the extent that you might actually become part of Norse myth,” Leask writes, referring to Snowbird, a blonde Inuit. Though Man-of-Bats (who first appeared on Batman #86) spoke to him, he couldn’t name one Native artist working at major comics publication.
“You either get to be so ludicrously stereotyped…or you lose any discernible element of aboriginal identity.”
And that’s why it’s important to highlight and back indigenous creators – which the conference won’t be on short supply of. So far, the conference’s website only lists 12 special guests – including Jeffrey Veregge, Super Indian creator Arigon Starr, and Ishmael Hope. Organizers expect artists from Mexico, Canada, and all across the United States, but they are shooting to make the conference a truly global event.
“I hope that indigenous people see that they have a place in popular culture that is not exclusively historicized,” Lee said. “In other words, we have a viable future that is connected to the past but not represented solely by images and perceptions of the past. Mostly, we want indigenous youth to see that there are so many wonderful ways they can express themselves and that they can support and celebrate each other’s uniqueness.”
At the event, they can do that by participating in the Game Design Pre Conference, which will allow them to work with game industry professionals and learn how to design their own games that focus on the conservation of language and culture.
While Indigenous Comic Con is a unique event, throughout the US, people are starting their own conventions to focus on niche topics and to serve their own communities. In San Diego, for example, comic book enthusiast Border X Brewing CEO David Favela started Chicano Con as a way to bring a bit of San Diego Comic-Con to the very Latino neighborhood of Barrio Logan – except with Latino superheroes and lucha libre at the forefront. (It goes down on July 23, so check it out if you can.)
At ICC, nerdom and indigenous culture will come together to challenge mainstream narratives. “The only way we can change the stereotypes of Natives in popular media is to support these kinds of efforts,” Lee said. “It’s not enough to just like on Facebook or Twitter, you need to buy comic books by Native and indigenous artists, download games by Native and indigenous creators. Support with your wallet. So really, we want people to show up to the Con, to enjoy what they see, and show the world that Native and indigenous pop culture is here to stay.”
Indigenous Comic Con takes place November 18 to 20 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, 1701 4th St. Southwest, in Albuquerque. Tickets range from $15 to $300. Buy them here.