Native Realities is an all-Native press with a creative mandate to publish stories that empower Native and Indigenous youth. Rather than concentrating on the past, NR seeks out stories with Native content that eschew the stereotypical portrayals of Native characters as historical objects. Instead, the stories coming out of NR tell of the lives the dreams of Native and Indigenous peoples in modern and contemporary times. Earlier this year, INC comics found a new home as an imprint of NR. Established in 2012 as the first all-Native comic book publishing company, INC has graced the comics scene with such titles as Tales of the Mighty Code-Talkers, Kaui, and Super-Indian.
This month, NR CEO and Publisher Lee Francis talked to Indyfest Magazine about NR, INC, and the road ahead.
IM: How did Native Realities Press come to be?
LF: Native Realities was originally the online journal of Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers that I started back in 2000. We were one of the first online journals, though I didn’t know it at the time. We ran for about three years. About a year ago, I realized there was a need to expand beyond the offerings of INC. In other words, we needed more than just comics; we needed books by Native authors directed toward a Native audience, from a Native perspective (shout-out to the work of Debbie Reese and #WeNeedDiverseBooks). Also, we had some comic book creators who had their own imprints and we wanted to give them the opportunity to keep their imprint while we handled distribution (as in the case of Captain Paiute and Mr. Theo Tso).
IM: Who are the people behind NR? What are their backgrounds?
LF: Right now, it’s just me. I handle most of the back office work—editing, promotions, distribution. We are establishing a review board currently and have some very strong allies in the work, though, which helps with the “behind-the-scenes” stuff. My background includes editing, teaching, and writing, as well as organizational management. Since it’s only me, though, the work is sometimes slower than I would like.
IM: Looking at your website, you have several imprints (INC, etc.). How do they differ?
LF: INC Comics (INC stands for Indigenous Narratives Collective) is a collaborative imprint that a number of the comic creators all have input on and work with. The other imprints are usually the ones the creator brings with them or has already established. INC is the in-house imprint and works as a collaborative, creative unit.
IM: Let’s talk about the books you’re currently producing. Kaui is billed as “A Polynesian Tale of Beauty and the Beast”. What elements would you say set it apart from the European version(s)?
LF: I think our work is set apart from the European version as it brings in more of the Hawaiian connection. Kristina brings in elements of Hawaiian stories and culture. So it has the Beauty and the Beast framework but is actually based on a similar Hawaiian story.
IM: Who is “Beauty” in this story? What is she looking for? What makes her tick?
LF: Kaui is the beauty. At the beginning of the story, she is a bit of a selfish young woman, who is looking to have a good time and hang out with her friends. As the story moves forward, she gains deeper insight into herself, and her culture, and the importance of the stories she grew up with.
IM: And the “Beast”?
IM: What can you share with us about creator Kristina Bad Hand?
LF: Well I don’t like to speak too much for our creators, so I’ll tell you our interactions with her. We met Kristina (‘we’ being myself and Arigon Starr) at the Denver Comic-con three years ago. She came by our booth and introduced herself as a comic book creator. We asked her to do some work for the cover of the Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers Anthology (due out next spring), and she pitched the idea for Kaui (and a number of other titles). She is currently working on the next Kaui installments, as well as editing for INC. I would say that she is a triple threat: good writer, good artist, good promoter.
IM: You’re also shedding light on an often-overlooked chapter of WWI with Tales of the Mighty Code-Talkers. Can you share some details about how these soldiers and how they affected the outcome of the war?
LF: So, the Code Talkers program stretched from World War I through Vietnam. The first two stories we have released focus on the Choctaw and Cherokee contributions to the Army in WWI. The soldiers who were trained as Code Talkers were Native men, mostly from rural and reservation areas. Often, they were students at Indian Boarding Schools (though not always). Their impact on the war(s) was tangible, as their Code was their heritage language and had an immediate impact in the field. A number of Marines I have talked with credit the Navajo code with saving hundreds, thousands of lives, and being the breakthrough for the war in the Pacific.
IM: How is the story conveyed in your comics?
LF: We use creative non-fiction to address the larger issues around the Code Talkers program. Annumpa Luma (the first Code Talkers comic by Arigon Starr) details the Choctaw regimen, though it uses fictionalized names. Radio Silence (upcoming in the anthology) discusses the issue of Boarding Schools and how Native children were punished for using their language, only to be told fifteen, twenty years later that it could save the world.
IM: What can you share with us about creator Arigon Starr?
LF: Arigon Starr is amazing! She is the driving force and lead founder of INC Comics. She is an amazing writer, artist, performer, promoter, you name it!
IM: Any chance of Super-Indian joining your backlist?
LF: That would be wonderful!
IM: What do you look for in an NR submission?
LF: Quality, authenticity, and creativity! We are looking for stories that strive to give you the most original and authentic representations of Native and Indigenous peoples through stories and texts that educate and entertain children, youth, and adults.
IM: How are you marketing and promoting your titles?
LF: We have our website, word-of-mouth, our mailing list, and we are connected with a number of schools (Native and non-Native). We’d like to get more reach over the next year, once I have additional time to dedicate to the promotional aspect.
IM: When creators sign on with you, do they retain the rights to their characters/creations, or do you purchase them?
LF: Unless we develop the work out of INC, creators keep their rights, characters, and creations. If they do sign with INC, then we try to make sure that we have a good agreement that helps to support the creator and the continuation of their work.
IM: What’s next on your horizon? Any new offerings that we should keep an eye out for?
LF: The rest of the Kaui story is on deck. Captain Paiute #1 will be out this month. The Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers anthology will be out soon. And we have two other titles in development: one young adult and one picture book. So, lots of good stuff coming up!
IM: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us, that we haven’t touched on?
LF: I think we covered it all!
IM: Finally, how can we purchase NR titles and how can we keep up with you online?
LF: Check us out at: www.nativerealities.com or our FB page: https://www.facebook.com/nativerealitiespress
IM: Thanks so much!