Weaving Tales in Word and Image

A Review of Hope Nicholson’s (ed) “Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection” (AH Comics Inc, 2015)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo for Moonshot

Cover Photo for Moonshot

The comic book industry has generally had an exploitative relationship with indigenous peoples. Generally indigenous peoples have been portrayed in comics as villains or sidekicks and their character development limited to cultural stereotypes and one-dimensionality. In superhero comics, generally even the superpowers of indigenous superheroes have been expressions of cultural assumptions – communal relationships with animals and trees and special connections with nature. Indigenous people have often been portrayed as extensions of the landscape. Hope Nicholson’s “Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection” tries to open up a space for indigenous stories that come from indigenous peoples. The collection features the work of 30 authors and artists expressing diverse stories that render indigenous voices into image and written word.

Often when asked to contribute to collections that interact with cultural and artistic expressions, indigenous people are encouraged to talk about the past, which problematically structures indigeneity as something of the past rather than a vibrant, current culture. This collection emphasises the vibrancy of indigenous culture, including tales from the past, but also modern adaptations of these tales, new tales of the present, and science fictional tales of the future. These are tales of superheroes, animal spirits, dark figures from the water depths, space travellers, futuristic inhabitants of other worlds, encounters with otherworldly and sometimes extraterrestrial beings, encounters with possession, tales of robbery and recovery, robopocalypses, and environmental travesties.

David Mack plays with the interaction of indigenous identity and Deaf culture in his superhero character Echo, who explores her understanding of herself as a Deaf indigenous woman. David Robertson and Haiwei Hou play with light and colour as they play with the Cree tale of Ochek the Fisher and opening the world to new light. Dayton Edmonds and Micah Farritor use animal and anthropomorphic animal spirit forms to tell the story of the gathering of bright stones to become the stars and Coyote’s accidental scattering of the stars across the canvas of the sky. Sean and Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsely and mention3 tell the story of the Qallupiluk, a figure from Inuit tales who rises out of the cold water. Arigon Starr and David Cutler tell a cross space future version of “The Young Man Who Turned Into a Snake”. Elizabeth LaPensee and Gregory Chomichuk use only visuals to tell the tale of a hunter encountering the Star People. Michael Sheyahshe and George Freeman tell a tale of two brothers with special gifts who seek to solve the disappearance of their mother on an alien world. Tony Romito and Jeremy D. Mohler tell an arctic tale of an inuit hunter who encounters otherworldly beings from under the arctic ice. Ian Ross, Lovern Kindzierski, Adam Gorham, and Peter Dawes explore the impact of anthropology on indigenous cultures and the robbery of indigenous artefacts by anthropologists. Richard Van Camp, Rosa Mantla, and Nicholas Burns explore the interaction between the traditions of The Night the Spirits Return among the Dene and the Celtic-originating tradition of Halloween. Todd Houseman and Ben Shannon tell a tale of the future where pollution has destroyed much of the North American continent and a war between humans and robotic life forms has meant widespread devastation. Jay and Joel Odjick examine a first hunt and the interaction between the human and animal world. Elizabeth LaPensee, Claude St. Aubin, and Andy Stanleigh explore the impact of mining and the attempt to connect to the Memegwesiwag, a people who love copper and can only be seen by the pure of heart. These tales weave together in a fabric of intwined words and images, and also a twining of multiple worlds and worldviews.

The art styles vary in “Moonshot” between mixed media art, ink on paper, pencil crayon on paper, watercolours, fractal-influenced digital art, traditional comic panels and frame-breaking violations of the ‘gutter’ space between panels. They use word bubbles, text-free comics, or large swaths of text, illustrating the potential for expressing the idea of ‘story’ through multiplicity. This is a collection as diverse as the indigenous peoples who contributed to it. No longer relegated to the role of sidekicks or villains, the indigenous characters in these comics are able to tell their own tales, rich in complexity and multi-dimensionality.

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Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 24: An Interview with Jay Odjick and Discussion About Kagagi

In this episode, I discuss Jay Odjick’s Kagagi and then air an interview that I conducted with Jay Odjick at Can Con. Jay is the creator of Kagagi, a comic book that has recently been made into a television show for APTN (The Aboriginal People’s Television Network). In my discussion of Kagagi, I explore the representation of aboriginal peoples in past comics, particularly those written by non-aboriginals and the stereotypical portrayal of aboriginal peoples in popular comics. I contrast this with Jay Odjick’s Kagagi, an aboriginal superhero written by an aboriginal person and focus on the depth of character portrayed in Kagagi. I conduct a short analysis of the artistic style of the comic and compare it to other comics and other artistic styles.

In our interview, Jay Odjick and I talk about the origins of Kagagi, the history of the legends that shaped the idea of this superhero, trickster figures, aboriginal justice, comparisons between superhero figures, zombies, the horror aesthetics of the comic, and so much more.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

Remember to check out the Kagagi website at http://kagagi.squarespace.com/ and A Tribe Called Red’s website at http://atribecalledred.com/. They are the brilliant and amazing folks who did the theme song for the Kagagi television show.

Fluid

A review of Jay Odjick and Patrick Tenascon’s Kagagi: The Raven (Arcana, 2010)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo of Kagagi: The Raven courtesy of Jay Odjick's website http://jayodjick.deviantart.com/art/Kagagi-cover-with-logo-68276887

Cover Photo of Kagagi: The Raven courtesy of Jay Odjick’s website http://jayodjick.deviantart.com/art/Kagagi-cover-with-logo-68276887

Portrayals of aboriginal people in comics are often tokenistic, two dimensional, and stereotypical. Aboriginal women in comics are sexualized, with costumes that are reduced to a few bands of leather and tassels. Aboriginal men are made into stoic figures. Aboriginal groups are often invented for comic book worlds, creating communities that have never existed and using a mish- mash of iconography from a variety of native peoples.

This is why it is so refreshing to see Jay Odjick and Patrick Tenascon’s Kagagi: The Raven, a comic that puts an Anishnabee man in the role of the hero rather than the sidekick or token diversity team member.

Kagagi: The Raven is a powerful story about transformation with a mixture of coming of age story, resistance to the superhero destiny, and overcoming systemic bullying… and perhaps that is why his superhero bears the Trickster qualities of Raven with a little touch of Nanabush.

Much like characters of historical Anishnabee tales, Odjick’s story is not easily resolved. There is no simple victory, no easy conquest of might over villainy, but rather a learning experience in which Matthew (who becomes Kagagi) confronts an enemy (a Windigo) as well as confronting his own limits and learns from the experience, gains further wisdom and self-knowledge.

With its blend of a dark, nighttime aesthetic with billowing clouds and slashes of blood along with Kagagi’s own dark, fluid, almost inky costume, Odjick and Tenascon’s art styles emphasize the dreamy, subconsciously dark quality of this narrative with pools of shadow and startling glimpses of the beautifully grotesque.

This is a fluid, transformative tale that opens up possibilities for a world of superheroism and future stories.

To discover more about Jay Odjick’s work and see his art, visit http://jayodjick.deviantart.com/ .

To find out more about Kagagi: The Raven, you can visit http://kagagi.squarespace.com/