Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
September 9, 2000 - Issue 18

Culture and Comics Need Multicultural Perspective
article and artwork contributed by Rob Schmidt editor of Peace Party Comics

Tall Oak, a Narragansett quoted in the documentary "500 Nations," calls Indians the conscience of America. "The lesson," he says, "is to realize the value of an alternative perspective. And that is why we are here. That is why the Creator allowed some of us to remain, in spite of all the attempts to destroy us."

With violence headlining the news around the globe, a multicultural perspective has never been more relevant than now. No longer does "rugged individualism" or "might makes right" seem the answer to every dilemma. Even jaded Americans, sure of their own superiority, are beginning to ask what's happening.

Unfortunately, the frontier mentality is embedded deeply in the American psyche. It's pervasive in every form of popular entertainment, from sports to TV to comic books. How many times has the lone hero, a James Bond or Luke Skywalker, defeated the forces of evil against insurmountable odds?

By providing another perspective, multicultural products challenge our predominant myths. But it's difficult to find such voices in today's media onslaught. Few minority creators have the resources to break through the noise.

As the smallest and most at-risk minority, Native Americans provide a case study of how mainstream society ignores other viewpoints. As an indigenous people with non-Western roots, they also suggest an antidote to our monocultural beliefs.

Racism Here and Now

Most people consider blatant racism a thing of the past. But as the 21st century dawns, minority stereotyping and slighting still occur too often. A few recent examples:

  • Valiant's 1993 TUROK comic featured a half-naked Native warrior who uttered such unsavory cliches as "shaman" and "squaw." Other comic-book fighting machines include Tim Truman's Scout, Marvel's Thunderbird and Warpath, and DC's Butcher.

  • The 8/31/99 "B.C." comic strip depicted a Native American speaking crude English, discussing wampum, and standing before a tipi ... an erroneous mixture of stereotypes. Later, the Native indicated he learned to speak from books on Tarzan, Tonto, and Frankenstein.

  • The 1998 direct-to-video "Pocahontas II" falsified history to show the English and Indians working together to achieve lasting peace. The 2000 release "The Road to El Dorado" presented a host of indigenous cliches: the fat chief, the evil priest, the scantily-clad temptress.

  • FANTASTIC FOUR #29 (published March 2000) portrayed Wyatt Wingfoot's tribe hiding its advanced technology behind a culturally incorrect facade of pueblos and wickiups. The message was that other Indian tribes are impoverished losers and even the Keewazi must fear the white man.

Comics Mirror Society

American comic books and cartoons are a leading influence on today's pop culture. As a recent Wall Street Journal article said, "Comic books...remain a rich source of movie scripts and video-game material." One could cite everything from Batman to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Pokemon as examples.

Native Americans have made strides in comic books. A dozen or two significant characters exist. But few of them are leaders or stars. No Native American ... indeed, no minority superhero except the Black Panther (a holdover from the '60s) and the X-Men's Bishop--is on the title of a DC or Marvel comic.

How does the prevailing attitude express itself in comics, and what's the alternative? Consider the following:

  • Comic book characters are routinely tall and thin, and often fair-haired and fair-skinned, like golden idols. In contrast, Native Americans tend to be genetically programmed to be short and stocky, with dark hair and skin.
  • Comic book heroes routinely rush into battle without calling for help--either from other heroes or the authorities. In contrast, Native Americans tend to stress community involvement over glory-seeking individualism.
  • If our heroes pause to talk, they demand answers or specify solutions. In contrast, Native Americans tend to approach problems indirectly. They tell stories and let listeners realize the best course of action for themselves
  • Often a superhero conflict becomes a contest of wills, a competition for its own sake, as the underlying goals are forgotten. In contrast, Native Americans tend to shun adversarial relations and seek the inclusion of all.
  • Comic book villains are routinely captured and put behind bars without any attempt to rehabilitate them. In contrast, Native Americans tend to emphasize methods such as "talking circles" so wrongdoers can face up to their deeds.

People around the world see Americans as having a cowboy mentality. Ours is "a culture that confirms the stereotype of the individual as solitary gunslinger and society as a hostile frontier," as an LA Times article put it. Whether we're talking about John Wayne, Rambo, or the Punisher, the answer to our cultural myopia is a multicultural perspective.

Rob Schmidt publishes PEACE PARTY, a multicultural comic book featuring Native Americans.

For more information, visit

Peace Party

Blue Corn Comics Launches Contests for Youth
"Create a Native Superhero" Joins Fun-Filled Lineup

With these challenging new contests, we hope to spur kids to use the Internet, develop their creative and storytelling skills, and become interested in Native culture and history. For details, visit

If you know someone who might be interested, please pass this message along.



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