Taking Back the Narrative through Native American Comic Books

Native American Comics and Superheroes help reclaim indigenous culture and identity.



(Photo by Miika Laaksonen on Unsplash)

Red Planet Books and Comics is a One-stop shop for native nerds that was founded in 2017 by Lee Francis, an educator and writer with roots in the Laguna Pueblo tribe in New Mexico. The store is in Albuquerque, New Mexico; a state where over 10 percent of the population are Native Americans.  

Francis's father was an academic who taught Native Studies at the University of New Mexico and a founder of Wordcraft Circle of Native writers. His father's work moved the family between both coasts of the US. What was a constant was that he spent summers in New Mexico and his love of comic books. Francis was drawn to marvel comics. “What really engaged me is the superhero, and the narrative arc, and the epic scale,” Francis told Good.

Following in the path of his father, Francis received a doctorate in Education with a focus on workshops on writing, public speaking, and theatre for native-American youth. He also took over the running of the Woodcraft circle in 2003. Francis never lost his passion for comic books.

In 2015, Francis founded Native Realities, a company that produces and distributes comics and graphic novels that are created by indigenous people worldwide. The publications are about incredible tales of indigenous icons, first nation freedom fighters and native American superheroes whose stories have been co-opted, forgotten, or ignored. The intended audience is native youth (and friends of native youth). In 2016, he also founded a yearly Indigenous Comic-Con in Albuquerque; this year it ran from November 2-4.

Why comic books? Francis told Good that “comics marry the visual with the story. The visuals are so important because it’s how you perpetuate how indigenous people are seen." This follows the long tradition of visual and oral storytelling in Native communities worldwide despite forced assimilation. Storytelling has always been a way to preserve identity and culture.

This is exactly what Francis is trying to do. He asserts that it is all about reclaiming the ownership of native American identity; something that has been distorted by mainstream media.

One of the comic books that are distributed by Native Realities and sold at Red planet is Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers. The book features nine stories that tell the tales of the American code talkers from World War II and the Korean War. The graphic novel can be used in an educational setting and comes with lesson plans.

A second graphic novel from Native Realities is Deer Woman; A Vignette, a series of comic book stories about violence against native women in a manner that empowers women in this me-too age. Deer woman is a superhero who lures and kills men who commit violence against women with her hooves. The digital comic is free and comes with self-defense information.

Red Planet is a fairly unique store, one of only a handful of Native American bookstores. The products sold are comics, toys and games, children's books, and new and used books. Francis said, "As long as it's native, we carry it."

Francis is not dependent on the bookstore turning a profit, the back of the shop houses the shipping operation of Native Realities. He wanted to get the companies operating out of his kitchen.

The bookstore and the publishing company are much more than just reliving his nerdy childhood love of the medium. “Kids need as many options to enforce their identity and who they are. We need to create the alternative because if we are not doing that, then we can’t change the other,” Francis told Good.

They’re [the youth who buy his products] not just passive consumers, they get to be inspired by the work and tell their own stories. They get to be the superhero of their stories.”

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