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Sandra Hale Schulman
Special to ICT

Comic books by indigenous artists are taking off in popularity, illustrating the power and vision of Native storytellers with an inaugural convention and a big-name Marvel release.

Ariel Baska, a writer for Comics Book Showcase who compiles online lists of Native comic storytellers, said on the site Comics Bookcase that “the power of the word and the image together, I believe, in some ways makes the comic book the ideal medium to connect with mythic symbols, concealed histories, and tales of daring.”

The rise of Indigenous comics is set to be celebrated Saturday, Nov. 5, with the Cherokee Nation’s first-ever Indigenous comic convention, SkasdiCon, slated for Saturday, Nov. 5, at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

The convention comes on the heels of a new Marvel comic featuring Spider-Man, written by Taboo, the world-famous Shoshone musician of the Black-Eyed Peas, and B. Earl, and illustrated by Juan Ferreyra.

And they both join a growth in graphic novels and comics that bring Indigenous stories to life in new ways.

“I don’t want to speak for all Native folks … but I think this visual storytelling [harks back to our own stories and petroglyphs — rock art — [which] ties it back to our ancestors,” Lee Francis, Laguna Pueblo, who opened the world’s only Indigenous comic book, Red Planet Books and Comics in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2017, told The Associated Press.

Red Planet sells and distributes comics, books, games, toys and collectibles that are by, for and about Indigenous comic-loving peoples. Francis also hosted Indigenous Comic Con in Albuquerque but stopped holding conventions in 2020 because of COVID-19.

Comic Con lands in Oklahoma

Picking up where Indigenous Comic Con left off, the Cherokee Nation is celebrating Native perspective and influence in the comic book scene by hosting SkasdiCon, named for the Cherokee word, skasdi, that represents pride, impressiveness, awesomeness, fierceness or feistiness.

“SkasdiCon is providing a platform to celebrate and share the Native perspective and influence on comic books, video games, tabletop games, novels, film, television and more,” said Talisha Lewallen, manager of cultural programs and events for Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism, in a statement.

“Pop culture has proven its ability to unite people from different walks of life and by combining that with the Native perspective, we hope to give people a safe, shared space and time to be themselves and share what they love.”

Candice Byrd, cultural and tourism coordinator for Cherokee Nation Businesses, told ICT that the convention will feature artists with individual booths and some organizations, with about 30 vendors.

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“This convention came out of a desire and a passion to see Native comic illustration at the forefront and to see the way that Native people see themselves,” Byrd said, noting that an area will be set up “for whoever wants to come and draw on blank comic panels.”

Special guests include Oklahoma native Nathalie Standingcloud, Cherokee, an actor, model and artist who has performed in theater productions across the country and in the television series, “Reservation Dogs.” Noted artist Johnnie Diacon, Muscogee (Creek), who has nearly 40 years of graphic design experience, is also expected.

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SkasdiCon will also be screening an animated film, “Inage’I,” in the Cherokee language.

The event is hosted by Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism and championed by Cherokee language preservationist and top artist Roy Boney Jr., a 2022 Sequoyah Fellow.

Taboo swings with Spider-Man

Super-comic company Marvel is following the release of its “Indigenous Voices #1” anthology with a new Marvel comic featuring Spider-Man, written by Taboo and Earl.

The anthology, released in November 2020, gathered stories from Native storytellers and artists, including Jeffrey Veregge, Coast Salish; Weshoyat Alvitere, Tongva, Rebecca Roanhorse, Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo; and Darcie Little Badger, Lipan Apache.

Taboo, a Shoshone musician with the Black-Eyed Peas shown in this file photo, helped author a new Marvel comic series featuring Spider-Man, along with B. Earl. The series, released Oct. 19, 2022, is illustrated by Juan Ferreyra. (Photo by Sandra Hale Schulman)

The new release, “Deadly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1,” is a five-issue limited series that tells a revolutionary dark take on Spider-Man.

The series tells of demons preying on title character Peter Parker’s fears and insecurities as he spirals into a nightmare.

The trailer features Taboo’s “Welcome to the Neighborhood,” a new original track by the Grammy Award-winner.

“It was an absolute ‘Fanboy’ dream come true for B. Earl and I to work with our amazing team made up of Juan Ferreyra, and various,” Taboo said in a statement. “As a Native/Mexican kid from East Los Angeles, I never would have dreamed I would be creating stories with Marvel Comics — let alone getting to co-write and bring ‘Deadly Neighborhood Spider-Man’ to my city of Pasadena, California! This story is not only a crazy roller coaster of a read, it’s also paying homage to the love that B. Earl and I have for the horror films of the ‘80s.”

Earl said he was delighted to be included.

“I remember the moment when we got the call to write Spidey,” he said in a statement. “I was sitting at the breakfast table reading emails, and I saw one about it. Before I had even finished reading the email, my phone was ringing. Taboo was on the other line and all I heard was, 'Bro, Spider-Man!'

“It’s not every day you get to live your 11-year-old dream and play with Marvel’s biggest toy in the toy box,” Earl said. “To say it is an honor is an understatement.”

Taboo used several inspirations for his story and music, including “A Nightmare on My Street” by Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince and “Children’s Story” by Slick Rick.”

“As far as the inspiration for ‘Welcome to the Neighborhood,’ this is my way to say, ‘Thank you,’ to all our Spider-Man fans across the Marvel Universe who have read the comics, watched the movies and now get to listen to a song that came from ultimate love and appreciation for all those who will be rocking with ‘Deadly Neighborhood Spider-Man.’ SKODEN!” Taboo said of the song.

The comic hit stands and online on Oct. 19.

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