MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Let's talk comics now. They've gotten new life in recent years as new creators have added fresh characters and perspectives. But some Native Americans say they still find it hard to see themselves reflected in these characters. A new publisher is trying to change that by focusing exclusively on Native writers and artists. The company just released a reboot of the first all-Native superhero comic. Megan Kamerick from member station KUNM in Albuquerque has this report.
MEGAN KAMERICK, BYLINE: Jon Proudstar remembers the first time he saw a Native American character in a comic. It was Thunderbird in the "X-Men," and he was quickly killed off. Proudstar was 8 years old, and he was not happy.
JON PROUDSTAR: And for years, I just lamented about it and said, you know, one day I'll bring him back.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "X-MEN")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Thunderbird) I'll catch you, you blue devil. And when I do...
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD ACTOR: (As character) Thunderbird, wait.
KAMERICK: Proudstar, who is Yaqui and Mexican went one better. He created the first comic book to feature a whole team of Native American superheroes. "Tribal Force" debuted in 1996, but the publisher went out of business after just one issue.
PROUDSTAR: For years, I kept trying to get another publisher, and nobody would touch us.
KAMERICK: One reason - his main character was a sexual abuse survivor, not unlike an elementary school student he met working at a school in Tucson who eventually took her own life.
PROUDSTAR: You know, it broke my heart because nobody - I mean, I thought something big was going to happen from her death and nothing did. And they swept it under the carpet.
KAMERICK: And he found this problem was persistent in many Native communities.
PROUDSTAR: I wanted to do something, you know, as a young man, as a warrior. I just felt like I should be doing something. Like, how can I combat this?
KAMERICK: Over the years, various publishers approached him about "Tribal Force."
PROUDSTAR: They would always ask me, can you tone that down? Can you not talk about it? And I was like, no, that's why I'm doing what I'm doing.
KAMERICK: Then he found Lee Francis and Native Realities Press, which focuses on Native writers, artists and game designers. Francis, from Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, calls himself an indiginerd, and he wasn't put off by Proudstar's subject matter.
LEE FRANCIS: These are things that we face in our community, and we still need superheroes for this stuff. We need people that are going to be there to protect us, that are going to be there to help us out.
KAMERICK: Native Realities also published "Tales Of The Mighty Code Talkers." That was edited by Kickapoo author Arigon Starr, best known for her comic book "Super Indian" and created with a slew of other Native writers and artists. I caught up with her at the first indigenous Comic-Con. Native Realities produced the con last fall in Albuquerque.
ARIGON STARR: Because we all knew that there were other tribes that were involved in the codetalking project besides the Navajo.
KAMERICK: The book is designed like a graphic novel and is made up of historical vignettes.
STARR: Like, say, here's the story of two Korean soldiers in Sitka, Alaska, versus the Japanese. We're trying to do this on multi-levels, A, to get the stories out there, but also to show language and culture.
KAMERICK: Native realities founder Lee Francis is working on the second indigenous Comic-Con slated for this fall. He'll publish more comics and games this year as well. Those will be available online in schools and at Native American community centers. Proudstar is working on more chapters of "Tribal Force," happy he found an outlet that understands Native storytellers.
PROUDSTAR: It's amazing because it's never existed before at this level, at the creative level and the support level. And Lee is so enthusiastic.
KAMERICK: Ultimately, he hopes his work will prompt more people and tribal councils to address sexual abuse and suicide.
PROUDSTAR: You know, it needs to happen. It has to happen, so hopefully "Tribal Force" is the first step in that.
KAMERICK: The next chapter of "Tribal Force" is due out this summer. For NPR News in Albuquerque, I'm Megan Kamerick.
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