Today, the conversation with Arigon Starr, the cartoonist behind Super Indian, continues! We discuss the history and future of Super Indian, her experience of being a woman of color in an industry dominated by white men, and a special sneak preview of her graphic novel investigating the origins of Super Indian.
RMJ: Super Indian began as a radio series broadcast in 2007 and then made the jump to the web in 2011. Can you tell us a little more about the journey this character has made?
AS: As with a lot of enduring projects in my life, it all started as something that made me laugh. The characters were there from the start—a buffed-out Native American super-hero with a goofy, butterball sidekick and a broken down car. The germ of the idea stayed in my sketch book until the folks at Native Voices at the Autry, a theater company in Los Angeles, and the Native Radio Theater Project out of Lincoln, Nebraska asked me to write a ten-minute audio play based on the concept. The pilot episode was broadcast on PBS/National Public Radio in 2006. "Super Indian" became a ten-episode series taped in front of a live audience in Los Angeles and broadcast nationally on the Native Voice One radio network and the American Indian Radio on Satellite network.
I kept writing and sketching, then decided to write, pencil, ink, color and letter the project on my own. It was great fun to learn how to color in Photoshop. As I began the process, I turned to a lot of excellent art books like the DC series on pencil, ink and letters and the fantastic "Hi-Fi Color For Comics." I drew a twenty-three page story based on the first episode from the radio series.
"Origins" is unpublished at the moment. It's part of the full graphic novel I'm planning. In between my work on "Super Indian" I made time to visit a lot of the big comic conventions in San Francisco and San Diego. All of the working, published authors I spoke with had similar advice: "Finish the work, then start shopping it around." Some suggested saving money and publishing on the web. It made sense to me to start building on the audience that "Super Indian" had from the radio incarnation and get those folks excited about reading his adventures online.
RMJ: The webcomic community tends towards being overwhelmingly white and male. How do you experience being Native and a woman in an industry that can be racist and sexist?
AS: Right now, I'm invisible. However, that's partly by choice. It's taken a long time to get to the point where I feel like "Super Indian" is worthy of a significant promotional push. Now that I've got almost a year's worth of work online, I'm feeling better about it.
While working on the book I used marketing skills learned from working my independent CD promotion. "See and be seen"—otherwise known as "Be visible and participate." I attended comic conventions, talked to people about their process and asked a lot of questions. Got great advice from Mike Dawson who published the awesome memoir comic "Freddie & Me," John "JG" Roshell and Richard Starkings at Comicraft (who designed the awesome "Super Indian" logo) and "World War Z" author Max Brooks. When you approach people in a kind, respectful way you receive a lot of fantastic ideas and encouragement.
As I get more into the world of comics, I've discovered a handful of Native American women doing this work. I hope by putting "Super Indian" out there that this will help increase our numbers and strengthen our voice.
RMJ: You begin in the midst of a story about a maniacal anthropologist rather than beginning with Super Indian's origin story. Any chance we'll get to see the fateful birthday party in which Hubert acquired his powers from some community cheese?
AS: Yes! The infamous birthday party is included in "Origins," Super Indian Issue #1. This will be included in the published graphic novel version of my work. However, I'm letting your readers on Bitch see one of the pages from "Origins" exclusively.
RMJ: You've got an impressive career that stretches over several media—comics, film, television, and music. Can you tell us a little about your current projects outside of Super Indian?
AS: "Super Indian" has taken priority in my career at the moment. However, I'm working on a new play and still doing gigs around the country. I'll be heading up to Nez Perce country soon to perform at Lewis & Clark College and work with some of their community on producing new radio/audio theater plays. I'm also collaborating with one of my favorite writers Robert J. Conley on a couple of projects. Robert is an acclaimed and award-winning Western novelist who's written about cowboys and outlaws in the Oklahoma Territory. Many of those outlaws were Native people and I'm writing songs about them that will make up most of my next music project.
Also, I'm working with Wordcraft Circle of Native Storytellers and Writers to maintain a collective of Native American comic writers and artists. We hope to create more of a presence at upcoming Comic Conventions. In the meantime, artist Jacques LaGrange has assembled a follow-up to last year's successful Native American Comic Book panel at the upcoming Phoenix Comic Con. I'll be on the panel, and I'm thrilled to be able to represent and hopefully inspire others to pick up their pencils and get busy. We need a Native American version of the "Justice League" and "Avengers"—stat.