Modern Petroglyphs

graphic novels, sequential art, it’s all just comic books to me.

I don’t read nearly enough fiction.  And what fiction I do read is rarely graphic in nature. I mean I used to read comic books. I grew up on Archie and Veronica, as an adult I read  The Maxx for a while. And then I went on to more Serious Things eventually shedding fiction altogether and reading only non fiction.

There just seemed too much that I didn’t know and no time for things that weren’t real.

Boy is that a mistake and a flawed way of thinking because fiction is a way of examining the world that we live in. Or might live in. Or used to live in. It’s a way of picking it up and turning it this way and that, seeing how the light hits differently depending on where and how you hold it. Depending on who holds it. And this appears to be a lesson I need to learn again and again because clearly it did not take the first time I picked up Why Indigenous Literatures Matter and marveled at Daniel Heath Justice’s lessons about how fiction teaches us to be human.  

This lesson applies to comic books too.  Or graphic novels if you want to feel more literary. Sequential art if you’re feeling really bougie. But as Douglas Wolk, a writer and critic, said “the difference between a graphic novel and a comic book is the binding.”

This month one of the recomended books is This Place: 150 Years Retold. It is an anthology of stories, history, told in graphic format. The first 150 years of Canada told from a variety of Indigenous perspectives and it was the story of the last windigo killer that got my attention in a particular way. We are used to hearing of the windigo as a metaphor for colonialism, for capitalism. Politicans and other predators are often described as windigoes. But after reading this story, the book that it draws on (Killing the Shamen by Fiddler and Stevens), and Wrist  by Nathan Niigan Noodin Alder (a novel about a windigo family)  I realized how flawed that is. The stories as told in This Place as well as Wrist are told from the windigo’s perspective, or at least they contain the windigo’s perspective, and what they show is the despair and torment of being possessed, of the lost control and lost identity.  I saw myself, ourselves as Indigenous people trapped in a colonial state and tormented by the complicity of our lives. I saw that experience, felt it grinding like ice within me, and realized that we are all infected.

And I also came to understand that the windigo is a uniquely Algonquin or Anishinaabe creature. It did not come from Europe and it did not infect the Europeans who arrived here. 

They brought their own monsters of avarice and acquisition.

And I would not have realized this without fiction. Without graphic fiction in particular because there is something about the graphics in that story that made it more effective than strictly print. I had a similar experience reading Palestine by Joe Sacco , Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and Death Threat by Vivek Shraya. The imagery of the books provided important shape to what was very unfamiliar territory for me. I knew things intellectually about Palestine, Tehran, and transphobia but these are not lived experiences for me and empathy only gets you so far. Empathy does, after all, ask me to center my experiences in an attempt to find connection with others. And in territory as foreign to me as these places, centering myself in an attempt to find connection is dangerously colonial.

I have always known that if I wanted to understand people I should read books written by those people. And I have also known that fiction can tell us about a place or a time or a set of relationships in ways that non fiction cannot. Non fiction is bound by citation and proof. By material things that can be quantified and measured. Fiction simply invites us in. Graphics engulf us in a way that only images can.  There is a reason that Indigenous peoples across the globe tell stories instead of answering questions. Why they leave pictures behind for us to draw story from

I don’t know why it’s so hard to understand comic books as legitimate writing. Why we dismiss them. Earlier this month I almost broke an ankle trying to get to the ancient comic books scratched into the granite walls of Agawa bay on the edge of Lake Superior.  


Recommended books include:  

The Scout series by Tim TrumanSky
Code Talkers and others that contain the artwork of Roy Boney
This Place: 150 Years
Kagagi and The Outsider, both by Jay Odjick
The Outside Circle


Recommended books include:  

The Scout series by Tim TrumanSky
Code Talkers and others that contain the artwork of Roy Boney
This Place: 150 Years
Kagagi and The Outsider, both by Jay Odjick
The Outside Circle
Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection
A Girl Called Echo

The panel:  

Jay Odjick is a writer, artist and television producer from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Algonquin Nation in Quebec.

After writing and drawing his creator owned graphic novel KAGAGI: The Raven, Jay co-founded a production company that produced a television series called Kagagi based on the graphic novel. Jay is an executive producer on the show and also serves as its character designer and lead writer. You can find Kagagi at The show now airs internationally, in the US and Australia. Kagagi airs in three language versions, in English, Algonquin and a mixture of the two, with subtitles.

Jay’s work has been featured at a range of events and locations from Canada’s National Library and Archives to the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, at Canada’s Museum of History and he has travelled across Canada for speaking engagements. Jay has spoken before the House of Commons standing Committee on Health, and he has worked as a freelancer for the Ottawa Citizen and is a former teacher at the University of Ottawa.

Most recently, Jay provided the artwork for the Robert Munsch books Blackflies and Bear For Breakfast, both national bestsellers. Bear For Breakfast was also published in Algonquin.

Language revitalization is an issue near and dear to Jay’s heart; although he is not a fluent speaker of the Algonquin language, he funded the language versionings of Kagagi to try to share the language and has created the Algonquin Word of The Day initiative on Twitter, which has made national news.

You can find Jay on Facebook or follow him on twitter @jayodjick.

And you can dress like Jay too.  Warrior up!  Find his books on amazon or wherever you get your books, like maybe at Red Planet books

The Panel:

Dr Lee Francix IV  (Pueblo of Laguna) is the Head Indigenerd and CEO of Native Realities, the only Native and Indigenous pop culture company in the United States.

Native Realities is also the host of the Indigenous Comic Con and Red Planet Books and Comics.

Native Realities has published 10 titles to date with more on the way.

His hope is to change the perceptions of Native and Indigenous people through dynamic and imaginative pop culture representations.

Lee’s Red Planet Books is behind A Howl: A Comic Anthology of Wolves, Werewolves, and Rougarou  It’s got a kickstarter and is about halfway to it’s goal.  More information at Red Planet Books.  Jay is one of the contributors so it’s going to be amazing.

Neil Ellis Orts is a writer and performer living in Houston, Texas. His novella, Cary & John, is available for order wherever you order books. He is currently putting together a short story collection. Themes that emerge from Neil’s body of work include identity and religious faith, and of course grief.  There is almost always someone dead or dying in his stories, having absorbed the Pauline line about death being the final enemy.  His performance work often invites his audience into self reflection.  

Anrya Foubert is a second year student of Anthropology at McMaster University with an interest in archaeology. She spent her summer working in the private sector of cultural resource management in Barrie and working primarily with precontact materials and artifacts. She spends her time playing video games and enjoys very large amounts of caffeine.  She is a disability and mental health advocate as well as being a member of the LGBTQ+ community

Next month:  

October 20: Harvest Time

Recommended books

Salmon and Acorns Feed Our People
Indigenous Food Sovereignty in the United States
The Pueblo Food Experience (a cookbook)
Indigenous Food Systems: Concepts, Cases, and Conversations

Panel: TBD

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