From the foreword to Moonshot, by editor Hope Nicholson:
MOONSHOT is a project that is a thrilling new collection that showcases diverse aboriginal representation in comic books. This is an anthology of stories about identity, culture, and spirituality told by writers and artists from a range of communities across North America including many creators who identify as Métis, Inuit, Dene, Anishnaabe, Cree, Mi’kmaq, Caddo, Haida, Sioux, and Suquamish, among others.
There is no single, homogenous native identity and MOONSHOT is an extensive exploration of the vast variety of indigenous storytelling in North America. The comic book medium, which breaks boundaries in its marriage of text and image, is an amazing way to showcase this diversity.
MOONSHOT is an important book. These stories are important. We are privileged to be granted access to them.
It is so important that the (white) editor acknowledges all of these points, and that the (non-Indigenous) readers understand them, so I’ll recap with commentary:
- These are stories about Indigenous people by Indigenous peoples of Canada and the United States (sorry, no Mexico).* It wasn’t long ago that the only readily available stories about First Nations people were written (transcribed and mildly edited, at best; heavily edited or entirely made up at worst) and, on occasion, illustrated, by white men. And by not long ago, I mean within my lifetime. At present, stories by or about (or worse, both!) Indigenous people are still far less likely to be published than stories about just about any population. If that weren’t bad enough, non-Indigenous writers are still writing stereotypical Native characters. You know – feathers and warpaint and a mysterious spiritual connection with nature. (Even if the character is a city kid who has never been in a forest larger than Stanley Park.)
- There is no single, homogenous native identity. Aboriginal peoples, traditions, and cultures are diverse! This collection celebrates that diversity by bringing together stories from different peoples, using a wide variety of storytelling and artistic styles.
- These stories are important. See point number one.
- We are privileged to be granted access to them. Stories are sacred and an integral part of Aboriginal culture and life. These stories belong to them. The rest of us have no right to them whatsoever. The sharing of these stories with the wider public is an act of generosity on the part of the creators and their communities, particularly in light of the long and evil history of colonialism within Canada and the U.S. and the enduring prejudice against Indigenous populations in both countries.
Also immensely important: the publisher “[got] permission from elders in the communities in which the creators in the book are from” (Afterword, Andy Stanleigh).
And we haven’t even gotten to the fun part. Here it is: the stories.
SO. This is an anthology, which means that the quality is uneven. I have never read an anthology in which this was not a problem, and this includes anthologies of short stories by the same author. That is just the nature of anthologies. The good news is that the good stories (by my standards, which is to say tastes) are excellent and worth reading (buying) the whole book for.
Two stories in particular stood out: The Qallupiluk: Forgiveness by Sean and Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley and illustrated by menton3; and Vision Quest: Echo by David Mack.
Vision Quest: Echo is an excerpt from the Daredevil Vision Quest series. Echo, aka Maya Lopez, is an Indigenous and Latina superhero (Marvel universe) who is deaf. The words are just so, and the illustrations are well beyond my powers to describe. Mack uses a variety of illustrative styles (Maya shows us some of her own childhood drawings) and mixed media. Each page is full, sometimes with competing blocks that combine to form a unified whole.
Adding to the to do list: learn more about Indian Sign Language and find all other comics about Echo.
The Qallupiluk: Forgiveness isn’t a graphic novel or comic, strictly speaking, but a narrative illustrated something along the lines of A Monster Calls. The Qallupiluk is a shapeshifting monster who greedily hauls itself from the icy arctic waters to collect a child who has broken a taboo. Two excerpts: in the first, the Qallupiluk remembers a taboo-violator it had seized before; in the second, the Qallupiluk approaches an Inuit camp and whistles its inhabitants asleep.
The Qallupiluk had pulled her in, then, swimming deep with her – a foolish thing to do. Nothing but dead eyes had met the Qallupiluk’s own in the gelid depths, the girl having either frozen or drowned to death before the slightest whiff of her life might be sampled. Mistakes did happen. The fragility of human life was something that the Qallupiluk had never been able to fathom.
That was from the first page of the story. A few pages later:
“You have no breath of your own,” the dog repeated, again in Kiigutgiik. Its pale eyes did not blink.
“What speaks to me,” the Qallupiluk asked in the same tongue, “that resists my will?”
“A dog,” the dog said.
“No dog,” the Qallupiluk said, “but a liar. You possess strength. You are hidden.”
“I am a dog,” the dog said.
Other stories I particularly liked include Ue-Pucase: Water Master, which takes a Muscogee Creek story and recasts it in the future, in space; the pointed and hilarious Home, which has a bit of the feel and look of a (’50s?) detective story mixed with horror set in the Manitoba Museum (Winnipeg); and the gentle sibling story Copper Heart, set in Michigan in 1905.
There are a few typographical errors, such as both periods and commas at the end of sentences. The lack of page numbers would not be odd if one of the sketchbook illustrations didn’t refer to the finished painting by its page number. However, these are minor faults in a praiseworthy collection. I look forward to Moonshot Vol. 2
* Not all of the illustrators are Indigenous.