Art exhibit showcases Native American comic book heroes

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If You Go

What: Beyond Stereotypes: Native Americans Restyle the Comic Book Universe

When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Thursday, Oct. 15-Dec. 19

Where: SRJC’s Jesse Peter Multicultural Museum

Admission: Free (though on-campus parking is $4)

Information: museum.santarosa.edu

The annual Comic-Con event in San Diego might not be until next summer, but Santa Rosa is gearing up for a comic celebration of its own: One that celebrates contemporary comic books written by Native Americans featuring Native American heroes and vintage comics that portray characters of Native American descent.

The free exhibit, titled “Beyond Stereotypes: Native Americans Restyle the Comic Book Universe,” will include original artwork by local Kashia Pomo artist Eric Wilder and Arigon Starr, Kickapoo author of the tongue-in-cheek graphic novel “Super Indian.”

It opens Oct. 15 at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Jesse Peter Multicultural Museum and runs through Dec. 19.

Rachel Minor, the museum’s supervisor and curator, said the exhibit is designed to introduce visitors to Native American comics and challenge outdated narratives that depict Native American characters as stereotypes. The exhibit comprises 45 items in all, including framed art, digital prints, framed comics and action figures.

“The general theme I want to get across with this exhibit is that Native Americans are artists in their own right,” she said. “These people are creating art just like anyone else. It’s not only ‘native’ art.”

Minor got the idea for the exhibit from her mother, who lives in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and discovered a comic book shop in Albuquerque that only sells comics written by Native American authors. Minor’s mother bought some samples and sent them to Sonoma County. Minor was so inspired she began researching the subject on her own.

As part of this research, Minor discovered Wilder and Starr. The two are considered icons in the world of Native American comics, and both were eager to participate. Other Native artists are represented, as well.

For Wilder, participation in the exhibit is a bit of a homecoming; he took classes at SRJC in the 1980s.

He now lives in Point Arena, and said he uses imagery as a way of telling stories to bridge tradition and modernity.

“People think comics are only for children and teenagers, but, really, they are appealing to audiences of all ages,” said Wilder, whose grandmother was Essie Parrish, the last spiritual doctor of the Kashia Pomo tribe. “This exhibit shows how we can use comics to give currency to stories and tell them just like we always have, only tell them in a different way.”

One of the most striking parts of the exhibit is a large blow-up of one of Wilder’s characters that visitors see as soon as they walk in the front door. The character is named Rockman, and he is based on Wilder’s grandmother. As Wilder explains it, the hero has a special power to see and battle evil, but once he uses it he must leave the tribe forever. He created the character after his grandmother died 20 years ago.

Another likely standout: Starr’s “Super Indian” work. Unlike many Native American characters who are stoic and reserved, Starr’s heroine is bold, brash, self-effacing and downright funny. The comic has the look and feel of traditional “Superman” books. Currently, it is compiled into two graphic novels; a third being released later this year.

While these modern comics are interesting, vintage books pack a historic punch. Die-hard comic book fans will appreciate some books from original Marvel Comics and DC Comics universes, both of which featured several Native American characters between the 1950s and today. Minor said she incorporated these older books to demonstrate how non-Native artists have depicted the Native American characters over time.

Among the X-Men characters in the exhibit: Thunderbird, who lasted only three issues before he was killed trying to save a crashing airplane; Warpath, Thunderbird’s brother who spent his life seeking revenge; and Forge, a veteran of the Vietnam War who fashioned himself a prosthetic arm after losing his in battle.

Black Condor, who was part of the Freedom Fighters series, also is in the house.

“Native characters don’t always have to look the same way and do the same things; they can be complex,” Minor said. “Hopefully this exhibit will show people how.”

If You Go

What: Beyond Stereotypes: Native Americans Restyle the Comic Book Universe

When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Thursday, Oct. 15-Dec. 19

Where: SRJC’s Jesse Peter Multicultural Museum

Admission: Free (though on-campus parking is $4)

Information: museum.santarosa.edu

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