TULSA, Okla. – In Volume 1 of “Super Indian” comics, our hero saves his reservation from a culture-crushing giant robot named Techoskin. In an even bigger feat, author Arigon Starr has created an exciting new work as entertaining as it is significant.
The Los Angeles-based entertainer, singer, actor and artist known for her recording career and comedy stage plays has been hard at work since 2007 turning a character created for a 10-minute radio play into an ink-on-page reality. Now in its second printing, “Super Indian” comics is a sleek 64-page, full-color volume of heroes, crazy antics and personalities based on the contemporary life of Native American reservation life.
“Sometimes it takes a while to get things going. I mean, that thing took forever. I mean, 2007 is a long time ago,” Starr said during a recent visit to Tulsa. “You don’t want to just rush it out there.”
It was worth the wait.
An enrolled member of the Kickapoo tribe and also of Creek, Cherokee and Seneca descent, Starr grew up in a military family. Her father was a U.S. Navy recruiter, and it meant they moved a lot. During the summers, the family visited relatives in Tulsa. That’s when Starr’s grandfather took her and her younger sister to buy comic books. When school resumed, she would draw comic book characters in class while listening to lectures.
After finishing high school in San Diego, Calif., she moved to Los Angeles and became a publicist for Showtime television and Viacom Productions. Eventually, she left to work on her own music career and went on to produce several albums, including “Meet the Diva,” “Backflip” and “The Red Road.” “The Red Road” was an original cast recording of her musical play of the same name about people living on a reservation. In addition to her music, Starr has written plays, such as “The Red Road” and other original pieces on contemporary American Indian life. Her acting has garnered awards from the First Americans in Arts Awards, the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project and the Wordcraft Circle.
Starr’s work is filled with humor, and her latest creation, “Super Indian” follows that line.
The character had its beginnings when the Native Radio Theatre Project and Native Voices at the Autry (a Native American theater program of the Autry National Center in Los Angeles) commissioned a group storytellers of the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers to create a 10-minute radio play to be taped in front of an audience at the 2006 National Audio Theatre Festival at Missouri State University-West Plains, Mo. In the absence of Native American comic book heroes, she sketched out the character and story of Super Indian and wrote the script. Following the success of that recording and broadcast, a 10-part “Super Indian” series for radio was commissioned for 2007.
Throughout her music and theater work, Starr continued drawing, and during “Super Indian’s” radio play development, she started to wonder what her character might look like.
Super Indian is a strapping, handsome young man with dark locks flowing in the wind. He wears a blue leotard with an “S” on his torso and a black belt with the letters “NDN” on the buckle. His sidekicks are the loyal and purple spandex-clad Mega Bear and the brilliant canine scholar Diogi. What truly makes them unique, however, is that these heroes are ultimately ordinary dudes living on the fictitious Leaning Oak Reservation. The bold Super Indian is, in fact named Hubert, a janitor in glasses with braids at the local bingo hall; Mega Bear is General Bear, Hubert’s fry-bread wielding best friend; and Diogi – pronounced dee-oh-gee – is a D-O-G for the non-descript rez dog everyone else in the story sees.
When he was little, Hubert went to a birthday party where he ate commodity cheese re-engineered from a lab at the infamous Area 51. Tainted with “rezium,” the cheese gave him super strength and abilities. Diogi also ate the cheese, which gave the already clever hound a superior intellect and access to the reservation library.
Together, the three battle villains and shady characters out to wreck or steal the Native culture – tomb-raiding anthropologists, over-zealous hippies, faux Native American flute players. They also contend with attitudes within the tribe that would abandon traditions and ways of living uniquely indigenous for a kind of uncompromising assimilation. As serious as it all sounds, “Super Indian” is a comedy. Where else would you learn that a reservation mullet is also known as a “business in front, party in the back” hair cut?
“You know, some people slam it, but I like that old ‘Batman’ (TV) series, you know that old Adam West one, because it was funny,” Starr said. “I thought that’s just a good marriage of all things that I’ve been doing with the plays and music because there’s just this theme of humor running throughout the whole deal. So, I started drawing.”
Since she already had the stories and scripts from the radio play series, Starr started drawing out characters. Starr quickly learned she knew nothing about comic book production, so she read books about it and asked comic book creators questions at comic con events. Soon she was drawing, scanning the images onto computer, adding color through a computer program, adding dialogue and text and then throwing it altogether.
“A lot of professionals are willing to give time to help and tell how to … learn the process,” she said.
The first comics appeared as a web comic in April 2011. With the help of editor Janet Miner (Starr’s business partner in Wacky Productions), the comic was released frame by frame at the recommendation of other comic artists. When it started to take off, she returned to the comic cons to show her work to other professionals who were impressed with her technique and storytelling.
The “Super Indian” comic book was first printed in May 2012, published by Wacky Productions. The limited run proved to be more limited than they expected. The first volume is now in its second run, available at www.superindiancomics.com and also on Amazon.com.
The comic puts Starr in good company with other Native comic book artists and creators. Together, they are the newly formed Indigenous Narratives Collective, which includes Roy Boney, Beth Aileen Dillon, Spider Moccasin, Jonathan Nelson, Michael Sheyahshe, Ryan Huna Smith, Theo Tso and Marty Two Bulls.
With so much happening on the comic front, Starr continues work on theater and radio projects. No matter the medium of expression – music, stage or print – Starr is consistent in her art: It’s always contemporary and always funny.
“It’s hard to not, when you’re writing about us, to get overly serious about it,” she said, “… but there’s a lot of life out there and to remember that there’s life and there’s light and humor and laughter, because that’s how we survived – to take that path rather than, ‘Oh we’ve been done wrong and people have hurt us.’ Yeah, that’s true, all these things are true, but artistically you can go at it two different ways. I’ve always been on the side where we laugh a lot. That makes my life a lot better.”
Starr is currently at work on material for Volume 2 of “Super Indian.” The comic is also available at www.superindiancomics.com
Arigon Starr, Los Angeles-based entertainer, singer, actor and artist known for her recording career and comedy stage plays has been hard at work since 2007 turning a character created for a 10-minute radio play into an ink-on-page reality.
PHOTO BY KAREN SHADE | NATIVE AMERICAN TIMES