“The Word Balloons in the Comics Made Me Think of Smoke Signals”
– from the story Vision Quest: Echo
When someone asks you to think of American comic books, what comes to mind? Characters like Batman, Superman, and Spiderman? This is not unusual, given that these are some of comics’ most notable characters to date. However, there was a time when comics existed and these characters did not. Some fail to realize that the comic book was in fact born before caped crusaders ever were. Furthermore, eminent names in comics such as Stan Lee and Frank Miller weren’t even in the business. At least, not the way they are today.
In the beginning, there was no Superman, Batman, Wolverine, or Hulk. There was The Katzenjammer Kids, Nemo, and Blondie. Nothing super about them! These were stories featuring average Americans doing more or less average things. Today the tradition continues in some degrees, mostly among independent comics. So when a collection of stories comes along that challenge the status quo among the majority of superhero stories, my interest is immediately piqued. Furthermore, when it comes to American stories, there’s nothing more American than the stories passed down from the indigenous communities that lived here for tens of thousands of years before settlers came to these shores.
The stories featured in Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection are a homogeneous assortment of stories from North American tribes as varied as their creative representatives in this book. Creators come from Metis, Inuit, Dene, Anishinaabe, Cree, Sioux, Caddo, Haida, Mi’kmaq, and Suquamish, just to name a few. We are informed in the introduction that the existence of this book is a statement about cultural continuance, because natives have always had the best stories worth telling. Having read this book in only two days, I’m inclined to agree.
The art and narrative styling in Moonshot are as varied as the tribes from which they come. No two stories look alike, and it because of this that this graphic novel stays strong and fresh throughout the reading experience.
“I’m Telling You Now – Those Old Stories Are True.”
-from the story Ue-Pucase: Water Master
In total, Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection consists of eleven fully written and illustrated stories, and one song. The titular concluding lyrics are written by none other than Buffy Saint-Marie of the Cree nation (you may recognize that name).
Throughout, each piece weaves together with the other like baskets. Many transcend time itself, despite being as old as the lands of their origin. For example, both Strike and Bolt and Ue-Pucase: Water Master take place after humanity has left Earth. The former talks about to twin boys who are on a journey to rescue their mother from cannibals. The latter is a short story in which two men return to Earth for a short while. One of them eats condemned food and turns into a snake. It’s a classic tale for those who do not heed caution, adjusted slightly to fit the future. Nevertheless, the message is no less relevant.
Another tale, Ayanisach, takes place in an alternate future where mankind has been almost eliminated by an invading alien force. This one had a wonderful twist of irony at the end that made me smile. In the end, most occur in the time of their origin, like Observing, which is a wordless “Indigenous steampunk” tale of first contact with the Star People. Others are entirely their own creation and stand alone, such as Vision Quest: Echo and Home.
The only exception to the comic style rule in the entirety of the novel is also my favorite story in the collection.
“I Wish I Saw A Qallupiluk…”
-from the story The Qallupiluk: Forgiveness
There’s nothing more human than a monster story, and The Qallupiluk: Forgiveness is, to some extent, the tale of a monster. A story straight out of Inuit culture, the Qallupiluk is a creature with no distinct form. It lurks in the depths of the cold northern sea and waits near ice cracks for unsuspecting victims. Once snatched, the Qallupiluk drags them to their death below the dark and cold of the arctic waters.
The story’s aesthetic in the graphic novel is as striking as the fear it incites in the reader. There are no panels, only large single page spreads of dark paintings on a black background. The story is told with white stylized text on a black background as well. Each page turn depicts an image closer and closer to the Qallupiluk giving you a sense of dread that it may sneak up and steal you out of the murky blackness of the pages.
The Qallupiluk is not the only creature mentioned however in the course of the story. As the creature goes in search of a young girl who spoke the taboo words “I wish I saw a Qallupiluk” (good luck sleeping now) there is mention of those known only as the half-hidden. Without spoiling too much, one is encountered toward the end of the tale. It changes the dynamic and meaning of the story, but doesn’t bring about the end of the fear of the unknown of the tumultuous arctic lands.
“Off Into Outer Space You Go My Friends”
-from the song Moonshot
If you’re a fan of comics in general, this series is definitely worth considering. It has well known artists and writers of all backgrounds contributing to its pages. The stories within are, however, indigenous in origin. Alternate History Comics has put together an anthology of amazing works of art. This is easily a collection worthy of any bookshelf.
Moonshot: The Indigenous Comic Collection is the first volume of what will hopefully span a long series. It is available through Amazon at $17.99, but unfortunately has no Comixology version up for purchase yet.
Final Verdict: 5/5
Art: Haiwei Hou, Micah Farritor, menton3, David Cutler, Gregory Chomichuk, George Freeman, Jeremy D. Mohler, Adam Gorham, Nicholas Burns, Ben Shannan, Jay Odjick, Claude St. Aubin; Story: David Mack, David Robertson, Dayton Edmunds, Sean and Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley, Arigon Starr, Elizabeth LePensee, Ph.D., Michael Sheyahshe, Tony Romito, Ian Ross, Laverne Kindzierski, Richard Van Camp, Todd Houseman, Jay and Joel Odjick, Buffy St. Marie.
Publisher: Alternate History Comics
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection.