Alina Pete joins Interviews Editor, Andrew Irvin, to discuss this wonderful collection, Indiginerds, and how the Backerkit campaign is shaping up thus far. Dig into the details of this indie anthology from Iron Circus Comics below!
COMIC BOOK YETI: Congratulations on what looks like a successful crowdfunding exercise with plenty of time to see it grow further! I usually don’t start with campaign questions, but what made you decide on utilizing BackerKit?
ALINA PETE: You’ll have to ask Spike Trotman for the full explanation (and not to get too controversial right off the bat!), but I believe that the decision was made to move to BackerKit after other crowdfunding options announced they’d be exploring the NFT and crypto market, which famously exploit artists and therefore goes against what ICC stands for.
CBY: Ah, yes. Mention of NFTs generally loses a lot of credibility in my esteem, since I have yet to see it deployed properly, and cryptocurrency is the multi-level marketing of the blockchain era. Back to Indiginerds, you’ve featured 11 stories over approximately 120 pages - what did the process of soliciting and selecting contributors entail? When you opened up the call for submissions around a year ago, did you have an idea of the stories you wanted to include or specific creators you expected to participate? What behind-the-scenes decision-making would you like to share a bit more about with our readers?
AP: I didn’t have any specific ideas about the stories I wanted to feature because I knew that there is such a wealth of different ways that Indigenous people use and integrate technology into our cultural practices, so I kept the Call for Submissions very open. Fiction, auto-bio—basically, if you had a neat story that involved tech or pop culture in any way, I was eager to hear about that. And I think that not putting limits on the sort of stories I was after is what led to such a fascinating collection of stories. We’ve got a little of everything; romance, punk rebellion, heartfelt personal stories, sci fi and cyberpunk… I think everyone will find something to resonate with in Indiginerds!
CBY: I certainly enjoyed it throughout! The anthology features some strong recurring themes; media access, roleplaying games, musical expression, language preservation, and a general focus on the means of expression for indigenous creatives. From an editorial perspective, what helped unify all of the contributions under the overarching heading of “nerdiness?” Were there any stories too “cool” to include? (Because I thought some of these stories were definitely depictions of cool, confident individuals finding their footing in their fields of choice.)
AP: In a sense, every story was “too cool” because just existing in this world as an Indigenous nerd requires a certain level of rebellious badassery. But no, there weren’t any stories that I rejected for being “too cool”. Part of that is self selecting—I think that if you’re at all interested in creating comics, you’re already a little bit on the nerd scale (and I mean that in a positive way), so that fact in itself helped unify the theme. But another running theme throughout the anthology is the deep need we Indiginerds have to see ourselves represented in the media we love so much, and the desire to BUILD that representation if it isn’t there.
CBY: On the topic of opportunities for showcasing indigenous language, have there been discussions around any intent to publish each of these stories beyond the English anthology shared? What sort of commonalities and complications would arise, given the diverse range of linguistic and cultural backgrounds from which the contributors hail?
AP: I would absolutely love to see our stories translated into the Indigenous languages of their areas (especially stories about place and language like "Welei (I am fine)" and "Bvlbancha Forever")! But it would be a very complicated process. For one, most of our creators are from different cultures, so each story would be a different language. And for another, there’s been so much language loss among our people because of colonization and forced assimilation practices that I don’t think any of the writers in the book have our traditional language as a mother tongue. I certainly don’t, and my command of nehiyawak is toddler-level at best despite all my efforts. (My kingdom for nehiyaw Duolingo…)
This level of language loss is why it’s so important to try and showcase Indigenous languages, but it’s also a huge barrier to building resources for it, such as translated comics!
CBY: Oh, yeah, I would love to see a Duolingo course for more Pacific indigenous languages, particularly given the immense diversity in Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea (they've got ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, but that's it). Speaking of Hawai'i, I’ve been examining the work of Hawai'ian artist, Solomon Enos, and Kiwi author, Gina Cole, who have made #PasifikaFuturism a key concept under which they’ve situated their creative work - since I’m not indigenous to the region, I’ve been sure to separately frame my work in the context of Nissological Futurism (exploring futures of islands on their own terms). From what indigenous-led literary approaches do you draw the greatest inspiration (futurist or otherwise)?
AP: I’m personally a huge proponent of Indigenous Futurism (ed. - keep an eye out for her award winning story, Telling the Souls of Mars) and draw a lot of inspiration from the work of authors like Eden Robinson, Cherie Dimaline, Darcie Little Badger and so many others. There’s something so powerful about re-centering the Indigenous story not on our past, but on our future and how our traditional teachings can guide us into a future where we can use the wisdom entrusted to us by our ancestors to combat things like climate change or guide us when we come to explore new worlds.
CBY: Climate change conversations with people across the Pacific have been an enormous part of my day job this past decade, I'm glad to hear there's more of your work I can check out in this field! Now, seeing the past decade of indigenous communities/creators in the Pacific in their efforts to platform perspectives from around Oceania, do you have any insight from this anthology and other efforts regarding how to create additional solidarity across various indigenous communities around the world?
AP: Oh, absolutely. One of the good things to come out of Twitter was the #NativeTwitter and #Indigenous tags, which let Indigenous folks connect with people across North America and the world and see how similar our stories and our struggles are. It’s also a great way to brainstorm solutions. I know that there’s been a lot of scholarly discussion about the similarities between the Māori Kōhanga Reo (“language nest”) program in New Zealand and the Aboriginal Head Start program here in Canada, and how to best adapt the strategies that are working in one to the culturally-specific needs of another group.
Plus, with tools like TikTok, podcasting and streaming making it easier for Indigenous people to build an audience (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous), there’s a ton of ways for us to connect with one another and support each other’s regional needs and efforts. This was really evident during the fires in the Northwest Territories this past summer—there were several Inuit TikTokers whose posts about the government’s lack of evacuation plans raised a huge amount of awareness across Canada and beyond.
CBY: I haven't picked up TikTok, but I'm glad to hear it's functioning as this sort of vehicle for connectivity across indigenous communities. Correct me if I’m wrong, but there seemed to be indicated in a number of the Indiginerd contributions a clear intersection between grassroots labor solidarity and representation of indigenous rights. How would you like to see creatives compensated (in regard to near-term goals and the broader scope of diversifying the narrative landscape)?
AP: How would I like to see Indigenous creators compensated? Frequently and fairly! We bring unique experiences and a wealth of cultural knowledge to the table on every job.
I’d also love to see more Indigenous characters written and drawn by Indigenous artists and writers. It’s not enough just to have a character who is Indigenous—we’ve got to be able to look at that character and recognize them as someone who could be a cousin, someone with an authentic voice and experiences.
CBY: Ah, definitely! This point of recognition was raised in the College of the Marshall Islands team's Land of Danger project, as the issue #1 illustrator, Nico Toran, wasn't from the Marshall Islands, and using issue #1 to support Marshallese illustrators drawing issue #2 is a key priority. Concerning another island representation project, from talking with La Borinqueña creator Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez recently, he’d discussed the D.C. partnerships fostered for Puerto Rico’s emblematic hero. What sort of partnerships would you like to cultivate with existing narrative worlds and their publishers, if any? On what terms would you like to see these arrangements come together, ideally?
AP: I’d kill for a Reservation Dogs comic series. I know the show tied everything up with a bow, but there’s a lot of meat still to be found in the extended cast, and I’d love to see how the humor could be translated to comic pacing.
I’d also love to see a Snowguard series in the hands of emerging Inuit writer. No shade on Jim Zub–I respect why he created the character—but I know that there are a lot of aspects of living in the North that you just can’t know without having been there yourself. I also know that living in the North carries its own difficulties, such as unreliable internet access and seasonal storms knocking out power, so it’s already hard enough for the talent who live there to access the same job opportunities as creators elsewhere. It’s on us editor and publishers to MAKE these opportunities accessible to creators in Northern and remote communities.
CBY: Your story in the Indiginerds anthology focused upon the work you did writing a trailer and pilot for Synthesis, a sci-fi utopian vision in which cultural representation is a grounding element of the characters, not merely tokenized or broadly fabricated, as you mentioned in the context of the community of Dorvan 5. Can you share a bit about your work with Trembling Void and what sort of futures you’d like to see for Synthesis, and more broadly the world of Indigenous sci-fi?
AP: Working with Trembling Void was an amazing experience and one I’m really grateful for. As an independent film studio, they’ve always been committed to producing things for and by underrepresented communities, such as The Switch, the world’s first transgender sitcom.
With Synthesis, we were trying to tell the story of a diverse, hopeful sci-fi – like Gene Roddenbury’s original vision for the utopian universe of Star Trek, but written from our perspective in 2023. Our writers room talked about everything from bio-modification to planetary speciation and AI rights. I also spoke about how important it was that Indigenous people not only NOT be forced off Earth, but that traditional sustainability practices are part of what helped us survive and remediate the climate crisis that forced humanity off the planet in the first place!
CBY: Brilliant - I'd love to see more than just the trailer! As is customary at the end of interview segments, it’s an opportune time to share any other comics (or film, art, literature, music, etc.) that has been inspiring you beyond the scope of your recent anthology. What should our readers check out once they give Indiginerds their attention?
AP: Okay, it’s time for a quick rundown of the Indigenous projects/creators I’m excited about right now!
Horror: Never Whistle at Night
Spec Fiction: Love After The End
Comics: Surviving The City
Video Games: Hill Agency: purity/DECAY by Achimostawinan games
TTRPGS: Coyote and Crow
Animation: Spotted Fawn Productions
CBY: Alina, thank you for sharing this selection of contemporaneous work worth checking out! I hope everyone enjoys your perspective on the work of Indiginerds as much as I have. Please share any portfolio/publication links and social media links you’d like our readers to check out in the space below.
AP: Most of the creators featured in Indiginerds have their portfolios and socials linked from the BackerKit page – check for the list of names listed under “About The Book”, and please go give them all a follow!