July is Native American Heritage Month! Here at ComicsVerse, we’ve been gushing about as many Indigenous comics as we can. Rounding out the end of the month, we decided to have a roundtable discussion about MOONSHOT: THE INDIGENOUS COMICS COLLECTION.

Published in 2015 by Alternate History Comics, MOONSHOT showcases tons of creative powerhouses. These include Claude St-Aubin and George Freeman (DC), Lovern Kindzierski (Marvel), and indie writers such as Arigon Starr. Comics range from traditional religious stories to tales of sci-fi and horror. Plus, little snippets before each comic teach readers the background behind a variety of Native American nations.

We highly recommend you check out this anthology. Considering the unbelievable levels of oppression that Indigenous nations still face throughout the Americas, it’s crucial to redirect money to where it needs to go. Please support the work of a whole lot of talented people. Pick up Volumes 1 and 2 of MOONSHOT next time you see them in stores.

READ: CV critiques DC character Brave Bow and discusses ways to improve Indigenous representation!

The writers participating in this roundtable are Rachele Byrd (RB), Leijah Petelka (LP), Kelsey McConnell (KM), and Jhoan Suriel (JS). The moderators are Lindsey Mott (LM) and Morgan Slade (MS). This is an edited transcript for the purposes of clarity.

Indigenous Representation in Comics

LM: In the introduction to MOONSHOT, Michael Sheyahshe lays out various ways mainstream comics have depicted Indigenous people stereotypically. What stereotypes came to mind for you? How can these depictions damage the lives of living Indigenous people? 

RB: The first stereotype that came to mind was the assumption that Indigenous culture is only spiritually-based. Like the symbols that can represent Indigenous religions (like dream catchers or something) have become this thing for other people to consume and not take so seriously. Or for them to think that’s all Indigenous people are about (or good for).

JS: For me, it’s the Indian who lives in a teepee, dresses in generic brown garb, and bops their mouth around a fire. POCAHONTAS is the other stereotype. That’s when the white savior who comes into the scene to save the Indigenous people from their “savage” culture.

LP: I kept thinking about THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, where non-Native characters (primarily white) are somehow better at being “Indian” than Native people. My mind kept bringing up how often Native people are pushed to the side for their white protagonist, and how this can affect how a Native person sees themselves, or how white people may see Native people.

KM: What really stuck out to me was the mention of the “savage” and “angelic” stereotypes of Indigenous people. By confining them to either extreme, it makes their characters less relatable. And so they are easy to write off as just fiction, rather than a representation of living and breathing people. Mistreatment continues today for Indigenous people. And certainly, the negative portrayals encourage people to care less about their suffering. But I think that the angelic stereotype also reads to a lot of people as a kind of naivety. And so a lot of non-Native people see the culture as a misunderstanding of the ways of the world.

Moonshot
Image courtesy of Alternate History Comics

Storytelling as a Universal Medium

LM: First up in MOONSHOT is David Mack’s “Vision Quest: Echo.” In “Echo,” the narrator draws a parallel between comics and traditional storytelling. What other stories evoked that parallel for you?

RB: “Strike and Bolt” did that the most for me. It reminded me of children’s books I used to read. And then I thought, “Well, that’s the point: using the comic format so it doesn’t always have to be a children’s book.” It made me appreciate it more.

KM: “Coyote and the Pebbles” got me thinking about how many comics are based on mythologies. It’s something I never really thought about, besides really obvious general examples like ODY-C.

LP: I loved how unique “Echo” was as a comic. There weren’t any gutters or real barriers. Echo’s free-flowing imagination and story-telling abilities made the art seem almost cluttered, but it still had a clear definition as to where it was going. For instance, there’s the way Page 18 uses the birds, where the text goes up, but the birds bring you back down to the next section you’re supposed to read. I was taken aback by how the art reinforces the story and elaborates more on it than just the text alone could.

KM: Yes! My favorite part was the incorporation of Echo’s Deafness. I loved how dialogue began to exist outside of dialogue boxes and become part of the images, which really tied into the way she personally uses visuals as language.

MS: Yeah, the narrator tells the story in a very visual way because that’s how she interacts with the world. She loves storytelling, but purely auditory storytelling won’t work for her, so she uses comics to include Deaf people in her community and even to highlight Deaf storytelling as its own thing.

Moonshot
Image courtesy of Alternate History Comics

When Worlds Collide: Sci-Fi meets Folklore

LM: MOONSHOT contains quite a few sci-fi adaptations of traditional folklore. How do sci-fi settings allow these writers to create new narratives about their past, present, and future?

KM: For any marginalized group with a long history of violent oppression, such as Indigenous people, sci-fi stories are really powerful because they’re about the ability to persist. It’s so important to see Indigenous cultures preserved in fictional futures because there was (and is) a systematic effort to remove them from society. Sci-fi is such a white genre, and a lot of it parallels with colonization. Marginalized cultures must be allowed a presence in those genres to show off their ability to adapt. We gotta combat this belief that Indigenous people live in the past.

READ: Image comic EAST OF WEST also tackles Indigenous sci-fi!

MS: What I thought was really cool about using sci-fi was that it involves a sense of future that I feel like the Indigenous community is constantly denied. Like, American culture works really, really hard to paint Native people as extinct historical artifacts. Through sci-fi, the writers can say, “Uh, no, we still exist, and we’ll keep on existing for a whole lot longer.”

LP: Sci-fi and fantasy are genres that are extremely homogenized, so I loved seeing diverse characters in a sci-fi setting. “Strike and Bolt” is a great example of what writers can do with these narratives. Each piece of tech, such as the P.E.C.A.N. Unit, may be man-made, but it works with organic material. I think this harkens back to the relationship between Native nations and nature. It still maintains this sci-fi feel but also brings historic and organic elements to it.

JS: It puts sci-fi in a new light. We’ve seen thousands of iterations of Norse, Greek, and Arabic mythology but never an Indigenous take on it. It’s awesome to see how Indigenous sci-fi handles the relation between technology and spiritualism.

Moonshot
Image courtesy of Alternate History Comics

Reclaiming History in MOONSHOT

LM: As these comics point out, the history of the Americas goes back way before the colonizers showed up. What are some ways the comics in MOONSHOT look at history from a different perspective? Why is this reclaiming of history important?

RB: I think “Home” and “Ayanisach” (the one with the boy and his grandmother in an apocalyptic world) hit me the most. In America, we learn such a filtered, exclusionary version of history. We even teach Indigenous history in a way that enhances otherness by focusing on the “discovery” of that history. So actually reading the different perspectives of history helped to clear that stigma even more in my head.

MS: I loved how “Ayanisach” changed history so they could say, “Yeah, we just straight up beat up those colonizers and moved on with our lives.” That’s so different from the way that story usually goes, because we act like no life existed before the Europeans showed up.

RB: It was so obvious those robots were Europeans I laughed a little.

LP: “Home” definitely deals with that theme of reclaiming history as well. I love how it shows that colonizers often would “find” something and then claim ownership. That’s still a problem today. The relics that we have in museums and art galleries do not benefit the nations we stole them from. Much like the diorama in the story, some of the items we “found” include religious relics, sacred items, and even body parts. “Home” lets you know how it feels to lose such important items and then see them on display. It also makes the reader rethink how museums and art galleries deal with cultural items.

KM: So true. Sometimes museums feel more like a cultural zoo than an attempt at preserving and respecting cultures.

Moonshot
Image courtesy of Alternate History Comics

Navigating Cultures as an Indigenous Person

LM: “Tlicho Naowo: The Return Of The Spirit” depicts a modern day Tlicho family struggling to balance their heritage with Western culture during the evening of both Halloween and Night The Spirits Return. What are some ways these two holidays conflict with each other or could work together? Do you have any experiences with balancing your own culture with the dominant culture?

LP: I thought it was sort of funny that Night The Spirits Return landed on Halloween. Halloween is more self-centered. You just go door-to-door for free candy. Meanwhile, the Tlicho holiday is more about giving thanks for sacrifice and honoring ancestors. It reminded me more of Dia de los Muertos, in its ties to family. But I think the way the grandmother handled balancing both holidays was great, letting the children celebrate both. Balancing culture isn’t always easy. My family is more extreme. They’d prefer me to celebrate the culture they align with when I’m with them. It divides your perceptions when both cultures are pulling at you in extremes.

KM: I think it’s kind of tricky, because in a way there’s a conflict in the nature of the holidays. Night the Spirits Return is more serious and about prayer, while Halloween is about candy and costumes and mischief. It’s hard to balance the two moods, really.

RB: I liked how the kids showed interest in both cultures and didn’t treat one with more respect than the other. Even if candy is like gold to children.

READ: Here’s why Indigenous representation in media is so important!

JS: Halloween has a big problem with cultural appropriation. It’s still incredibly sad to walk into a costume shop and see an Indian costume with feathers. At the same time, Halloween is still a fun holiday. As a Dominican, my family celebrates the traditional holidays, but food is how we bring it back to our culture, as well as through language. For example, on Thanksgiving we have turkey but we also have moro de gandules (rice mixed with peas or beans) and flan. The lines between Dominican and American blur.

Moonshot
Image courtesy of Alternate History Comics

The Stunning Visuals of MOONSHOT

LM: How was the art of MOONSHOT similar or different from art you have seen before? What influences did you identify, and how did the visuals contribute to the anthology’s overall mission of “cultural authenticity” and “cultural continuance?”

LP: My favorite story had to be “The Observing” when it comes to art. I love Gregory Chomichuk, and how he manages to tell a story with only visuals is amazing. I love the colors he picked as well as how there is not always a distinct ground. His characters are almost up in the air, giving off a fantasy quality. And how he draws the star people is so unique, as these figures sort of dance in water-like air.

RB: I loved, loved, loved the art in “Ochek” and “The Qallupiluk: Forgiven.” They stuck with me the most throughout the anthology. I felt they interpreted and showcased the stories in a way I wouldn’t have found in any other work or if done by a non-Indigenous artist.

KM: I think for me the visuals contributed to cultural authenticity in that from story to story the art was so different. That seems like such an obvious thing, but we lump together various Indigenous cultures so often that I think people really think of their art as all the same. I loved the difference between the bright, vibrant colors in “Vision Quest: Echo” and the muted palette in “Coyote and the Pebbles.”

LP: Actually, I also wanna throw in my favorite panel from “Copper Heart.” The one where the boy finally goes into the cave to meet the spirit. I loved that as the reader we could see items floating and moving, but we were not pure of heart enough to see the spirits themselves. I loved that.

Moonshot
Image courtesy of Alternate History Comics

Closing Thoughts on MOONSHOT: THE INDIGENOUS COMICS COLLECTION

LM: What else haven’t we mentioned yet that you would like to bring up? 

LP: I ended up googling and researching so many things while reading. Although some of the things I would look up, such as the myth relating to “Ue-Pucase: Water Master,” did not bring up much background. With oral tradition, I know it’s hard to find a sort of baseline story. Still, maybe some more information before the comics would be nice. However, I’m not at all disappointed with what they had.

RB: I really felt the heart of the stories as I read them, even though they were new to me. I think the comic format helped with the feeling of something familiar-yet-fresh

KM: Yes! I think it’s so interesting that all of these stories felt so fresh and new. Yet at the same time it made me sad, because I know that the heart of these stories have been around for a long time. I really appreciated seeing something that’s been largely ignored put on the page.

JS: I so want to read Volume 2. It blows my mind how much talent there is beneath our noses. Often, mainstream media still won’t let Indigenous people tell their own stories. Yet there’s an audience that is hungry for these stories, so to see a series reclaim the history is akin to the same way Eve Ensler reclaimed the word vagina with The Vagina Monologues. The comic book industry can always use more diverse stories from marginalized people.

In Conclusion

We at ComicsVerse had an awesome time discussing MOONSHOT: THE INDIGENOUS COMICS COLLECTION. Despite the many different backgrounds of people reading, we all learned a lot. MOONSHOT is a powerful book. It empowers Indigenous readers and teaches non-Native readers about Indigenous activism. Everyone can and should check out the first volume of this incredible anthology.

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