Graphic Novel Is a Potpourri of Traditional Stories, Myths, Histories, Jokes and Poetry
This graphic novel, edited by Tom Pomplun, is an anthology that combines traditional stories, myths, histories, jokes and poetry, illustrated by some of the finest graphic artists in Indian Country. The art ranges from comics approaching realism, such as Heavy Metal magazine artist John Findley’s beautiful, glowing work “Two Wolves,” to the highly stylized contemporary comic look of Maliseet artist Tara Audbert’s “A Prehistoric Race,” not to mention the flat-out cartoony style of Indian Country Today Media Network’s own Marty Two Bulls, Sr. in the illustrations of the humorous poem “I’m Wildcat Bill From Grizzle Hill.” It shows the wide variety of voices, styles and techniques that come from the many individual artists and writers who help make up Native America.
Eureka Production’s Graphic Classics series is a modern take on the old Classics Illustrated comics that were popular in the mid 20th century. But rather than creating a graphic version of a single novel that fits into a comic book, Eureka puts out multiple works by an author (such as short stories by Edgar Allan Poe or O. Henry) in a single paperback. The texts in Native American Classics are primarily stories, poems and folklore taken from 19th- and early 20th–century texts, reformatted by contemporary teams of writers and artists.
The work’s centerpiece is the story “On Wolf Mountain,” by Santee Sioux author Charles Eastman (Ohíye S’a) from his book Red Hunters and The Animal People (Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1904). The story is adapted by Joseph Bruchac, and the art is the last work completed by the late Robby McMurtry, who was shot and killed last year in a tragic incident at his home. The book is dedicated to McMurtry, who was known for his romantic style.
There are traditional Indian stories in the book, like the one about how the turtle wins races with other animals, by Wyandot poet Bertrand N.O. Walker (Hen-Toh), and “The Story of Itsikamahidish and The Wild Potato” as told to anthropologist Gilbert Wilson by the Hidatsa storyteller Buffalo Bird Woman (Maxidiwiac). However, a number of the pieces are reactions to contact with European culture. By the end of the volume it is obvious that reaction has left such a scar on the Native imagination that it becomes more of a focal point than the traditional stories. Unfortunately that’s not a criticism of the book, but more of a statement of fact for a culture that the U.S. government tried to eradicate.
Christianity is also dealt with in an allegorical story by Sioux writer Zitkala-Ša (Gertrude Simmons Bonnin). “The Soft-Hearted Sioux” mirrors the balance of the author’s own life between white and Native culture, and in “How The White Race Came to America,” by the Seneca religious leader Handsome Lake (Sganyadái:yoˀ,) who shows Hanisse’ono, the Evil One, sending cards, liquor and money with Columbus on his infamous voyage.
Native American Classics is a very rewarding book that features too many fine Native writers and artists to name here. Suffice to say it is an excellent anthology that shows the state of the art in Native American art and narrative.
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