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An Interview with Native Comics Artist Tania Willard

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  • Robert V. Schmidt
    http://www.brokenpencil.com/features/feature.php?featureid=59 Our Voice is Our Weapon: An Interview with Native Comics Artist Tania Willard by Kara Sievewright
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 8, 2005

      Our Voice is Our Weapon: An Interview with Native Comics Artist Tania
      by Kara Sievewright

      Painter, printmaker, illustrator, writer, and comics artist, Tania
      Willard is also the editor of Redwire Magazine, an Indigenous youth
      magazine and website out of Vancouver, and one of the only forums for
      independent aboriginal culture, art, and politics in Canada. Willard is
      also a member of the Secwepemc Nation, and a very vocal defender of Native
      rights. She is also doing a comic strip series on Native working class
      history called "Red Flags Red Skin" for Our Times, an independent labour
      magazine. The following is a result of an interview conducted via e-mail.

      Recently you published an amazing all Native comics issue of Redwire
      Magazine. What was your inspiration for this issue?

      "I have been interested in comics for a while, and in the imagery of
      Natives used in the media and popular culture. We had a copy of Everett
      Soop's book of single-panel comics. Soop was this really brilliant Indian
      political cartoonist in the ’60s and ’70s. Another influence and
      inspiration is Gord Hill's Zig Zag comics. He has been doing these amazing
      form-line design comic fusion illustrations and stories for a long time. I
      have seen a lot of the Indian characters in comic books and they are all so
      stereotypical — we wanted to frame our own Indian characters as more than a
      shaman, a pretty Indian princess, or vicious warrior. I also think comics
      are a great way to tell history. There is a comic book called The
      Illustrated History of the Chippewas of Nawash, and although I think it's
      not the greatest artistically, the idea is amazing. I guess I always
      thought that comics are a good way to retell traditional stories, for
      example The Little Girl and Grizzly Bear story I did for the Redwire comic
      issue. Our oral tradition for these stories is less and less with the
      passing of the older generations; so many Native people are seeking to
      portray these stories in new ways."

      I think your comics do a good job of illustrating and connecting
      stories and issues that otherwise would be forgotten or never told. Why do
      you draw comics?

      "I draw comics because I like them. I think it's a really intimate
      thing, creating comics; I like the solitude and the hours of drawing. And,
      again, I think they are a better way sometimes to tell a story than a long
      boring essay or position paper. In reality, especially in the Native
      community and other poverty-affected communities, who is going to sit down
      and read a whole academic revision of history? It's great and needs to be
      out there, but it also needs to be represented in popular mediums and
      popular culture."

      Recently Terminal City, a weekly alternative newspaper in Vancouver,
      published a racist Maakies comic that said cockroaches are more
      "indigenous" than indigenous people and talked about "featherheaded
      douchebags." How did you respond to this?

      "We contacted Terminal City (TC) as soon as we saw the comic. The
      editor didn't get why we thought it was a big deal. We sent out the text
      and the cartoon on our listserve to hundreds of Native — rights activists,
      youths, and journalists. They wrote back just as insulted and hurt that TC
      would think this comic was okay to print. TC then brought the artist, Tony
      Millionaire, into the debate to explain what he was getting at."

      What was Tony Millionaire’s defence?

      "His position was to show how racist behaviour is ridiculous, but in my
      view no Native person I know got that out of it — in fact they were all
      just like, ‘This is racist.’ (He just didn't think there were any Indians
      around to complain.) The strip ran in 13 other papers across America and he
      hadn't heard anything until us lippy Indians in Vancouver saw it. The
      e-mail debate went on with the TC editor and Tony basically saying that I
      was too uptight and PC. Finally I got sick of these two white men telling
      me why I should be OK with the cartoon and said, ‘Well, gee, let's make a
      cartoon from our perspective in the same vein as Tony's.’ So then I set
      about creating Kill Whitey, the Maakie’s rebuttal cartoon. TC agreed to
      print it along with a letter and other responses to the cartoon. They loved
      it and Tony really liked it too. He wanted to run it as a rebuttal to his
      cartoon, so it was printed everywhere the ‘douchebag’ cartoon was. That was
      great for us. All in all it was a pretty typical run-in with non-Native
      attitudes to Native people but it was satisfying to do something about that
      and really shatter those stereotypes that make Native people invisible."

      What are you working on next?

      "Right now for Redwire we are just getting our new mag, with a free CD,
      launched. It’s titled ‘Our Voice is Our Weapon and Our Bullets are the
      Truth,’ which is a quote by John Rampanen of the West coast Warrior Society
      whose family was harassed by the Integrated National Security Enforcement
      Team for allegedly stockpiling weapons. They were harassing him because of
      his involvement in Native issues. We thought it really summed up Redwire
      and why we are involved in media — it is the power of the voice and
      honouring our ancestors’ stories and his/herstories and our own
      experiences. So the CD is a compilation of Native hip hop, spoken word by
      established and emerging Native poets — like Chrystos and novelist Richard
      Van Camp, along with Native youth poets like Skeena Reece and Larry
      Nicholson — and some traditional music."

      For more info: Redwire Magazine, PO Box 34097, Station D, Vancouver, BC
      V6J 4M1, e-mail: info@..., www.redwiremag.com

      from broken pencil 22
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