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Fighting against racist tropes and stereotypical depictions, Native Americans and other communities of color seek to reclaim their own graphic narratives.
What began as a small convening of Native American artists at the 2011 Phoenix Comicon has grown into the already sold-out, first-ever Indigenous Comic Con.
Scheduled to take place in November in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the event is intended as an effort by indigenous Americans to tell their own story, and reclaim from outsiders the stereotypical depictions of indigenous culture that are all too common in popular media.
The organizers of the event is the Indigenous Narratives Collective, which describe itself on their Facebook page 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.”
While the idea for a comic convention of this sort has been bandied about for years, this autumn’s three-day event represents its first iteration. The popularity of the event has already taken organizers by surprise, and already they are considering expanding its vendor area because it sold out all its standard booths by the middle of June.
The Albuquerque convening will feature comic books, video games, tabletop games, graphic novels, film and television, sci-fi and fantasy, and anything else Indigenous.
But as writer James Leask has written on the site, Comics Alliance, many mainstream comics depict Indigenous superheroes using racist and stereotypical tropes.
“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.
Leask has also written about the lack of Indigenous writers within the industry.
The official event poster. | Photo: Facebook / Indigenous Narratives Collective
“I hope that Indigenous people see that they have a place in popular culture that is not exclusively historicized,” Leask said, as reported by Remezcla. “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.”
While Indigenous Comic Con is the first of its kind, it is by no means unique among illustrators and writers of color.
In San Diego, for example, Chicano Con will be highlighting Latino superheroes in the overwhelmingly Chicano/Mexican neighborhood of Barrio Logan.
And beyond grassroots movements, the mainstream industry is also taking note of the importance of diversity within comic culture and the media at large.
Marvel recently announced its cast for a movie based on the Black Panthers movement, featuring a cast of Black superheroes. In recent years, they have also introduced a teenaged Muslim Pakistani superhero named Kamala Khan, as well as an Afro-Latino spiderman and the new "Iron Man," who will be a Black woman.