An Interview with Native Comics Artist Tania Willard
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
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 Millionaires 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 Maakies 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. Its 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
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