IPI #1 – Weshoyot Alvitre
To celebrate Native American professionals working within the industry, Michael Sheyahshe (Caddo) sits down with comic book artist / illustrator, Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva / Gaelic / Scottish), who is gracious enough to share her story and experiences working in comics. To combat (at worst) stereotypes and (at best) poorly-created Indigenous characters, we Native Americans must tell our stories. Thus we showcase Indigenous people in the creative seat.
Michael Sheyahshe (“MS”): Background info: what is your tribal affiliation and where are you from?
Weshoyot Alvitre (“WA”): My dad is Tongva (the pre-missionized tribe of Gabrielino’s from southern California), and my mom is Gaelic and Scotish, so I’m half and half. I was born right here in California too.
MS: Did you have a lot of cultural interaction growing up? (Family gatherings, dances, ceremonies, etc.?)
WA: We used to live on a piece of land where my dad ran a cultural center and gave lectures on the weekends. I remember we had a few large get-togethers when I was a kid, with a lot of Native people. My dad was very active in Native American affairs up until I was about 5 years old. I remember him telling me and my brother a lot of stories and teaching us a lot about the land we lived on, which was pretty much out in the boonies.
It was a little different than the way other native kids grow up, I assume, because we never lived on a reservation and were rarely around other Native kids. I think my parents tried their best to keep my life fairly integrated into the ‘normal’ school system and whatnot. I went to a public school and growing up; I was usually the only Native American kid in the class. I wouldn’t say I had a ton of cultural interaction, because our tribe is really a lot smaller than most peoples tribes, but I was definitely aware of who I was and things pertaining to my culture.
MS: When did you first get into comics?
WA: I think the very first comic I ever got was a two pack of The Little Mermaid and Beauty & The Beast graphic novels that I ordered from one of those book-order things kids get from school. They were adaptations of the films, which I was a huge fan of, but in comic book form, which I had never seen before. Growing up, because we lived out on a large piece of land and because I was somewhat secluded from other kids my own age, I watched A LOT of cartoons. I became a fan of animation early on and really wanted to be an animator. I wanted to make ARIEL come to life….it just amazed me so much to see a moving drawing on a screen. After I got those book orders, I was introduced to a whole new medium.
My mom used to read a lot of children’s books to me. She worked as a librarian for a time when I was a young kid, and I remember going with her to the library and just devouring books and playing with the puppets and things they had in the kids section. So I was used to the standard medium of a children’s book, where you read some sentences, and they’d choose one idea to illustrate per page. I always had this desire to turn to the next page, because there was more art…and then another book, because I just wanted more. The thing that really struck me with the Disney comic book things were that they had multiple shots from the film all on one page and that it still told a story but had a ton more art. It had more movement than a standard illustrated book and that fascinated me. But my one criticism and confusion as a child was that ARIEL didn’t always look like she did in the movie…you know, the same syndrome in those coloring books…because I didn’t realize they had tons of different people doing the drawings. I was a very critical lil kid, I’m afraid.
MS: What is your favorite comic?
WA: That’s really, really hard for me to say indefinitely, because I draw a lot of inspiration from others’ work, and because my style can be pretty varied as well. I read a lot of Hellboy, B.P.R.D., The Goon, Umbrella Academy, Conan….a lot of Darkhorse stuff, and then I also have a lot of books I just picked up because of the art on them: Steampunks, Darkminds (the original series), stuff by Leinil Yu, David Mack, Bill Sienkiewicz, J. Scott Campbell….and then there’s a whole list of fine artists I am utterly obsessed with as well. A lot of Victorian illustrators, art noveau and deco.What is the recent comic that you’ve been working on and where can we buy it?
I recently did 3 issues of a book called Archaic by Fenickx Productions. I know there some on eBay, and I think you can get them from online dealers backstock. Also, I’m pretty sure you can get more info @ http://www.msplinks.com/MDFodHRwOi8vd3d3Lm15c3BhY2UuY29tL2Zlbmlja3g=. They have previews on there as well as ordering info as well.
I also had a 8 page short in their Volume 2 Graphic Novel, as well. Besides that, I managed to get a full page illustration published in the last issue (issue 6) of Darkhorse comic’s Umbrella Academy.
MS: What is your specialty?
WA: Um…that could be answered in many, many ways. Pertaining to comics, I consider myself a penciler and inker and would like to add colorist to my repertoire before I die.
MS: Did you get special training and/or education for this?
WA: I do have a BA in illustration, but I find my own work I did and sort of managed to incorporate despite my instructors’ disapprovals, were more beneficial to my education than drawing boxes and mixing primary colors. I would have liked to have gone to a proper art school, but I just couldn’t afford it. I just tried to push myself whenever I could, investigate anyone and everything that inspired me, and just drew all the time. I still do, I keep many sketchbooks. I always try to find new sources of inspiration, and since having work published, I’ve bee able to meet so many people I revere as comic gods.
I think some of the best things you can do for yourself if you want to be an artist is to have an insatiable desire to always have your hand moving and always have drawing tools by your side.
MS: What other comics have you worked on?
WA: Um, Tenth Muse. I inked a lot of issues and penciled and inked #11, Archaic #10-12, Archaic short story in Volume 2 of their graphic novel, I did a back cover for The Misadventures of Clark and Jefferson, a pin-up in issue 6 of Umbrella Academy…um….I think there’s a wiki page or something that has it all listed…
MS: What are some comics with Native American characters in them that stand out to you?
WA: I have to say I really enjoyed David Mack’s ECHO character that he created. I think it had a great deal to do with how he created a solid character with emotions and reactions to situation and the fact she was Native was secondary. It wasn’t forced down your throat in an insincere way. He did research what he did and I feel he made a very genuine effort to do justice to her character. I borrowed Commanche Moon from a friend recently but haven’t had time to read it yet…I’d really be interested if someone did a book based on mythos and creation stories and somehow modernized it to make something new, that’s not been introduced to the market yet.
MS: What is your opinion about Indigenous characters in comics? Do you feel we portrayed properly?
WA: I feel like there are not a lot of Native characters or creators I am familiar with, in dealing with Native people in comics. But with anything that is associated with Native people, I think there’s still that stereotype in a lot of the work that does come out, and I think it’s partially to blame because history books and the American history curriculum treats Native people as either a mythical creature that is extinct…like unicorns or the Tasmanian tiger…or dives right into the auto response people now seem to have in regards to the casino bands of Native people, and the resentment that seems to accompany that.
It’s kinda ‘you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t,’ mentality. I find it a very interesting social response. When there’s so much more to the lives and history of Native peoples, and they choose to focus on the misrepresentations of hippie aesthetics or reservations or casinos. I mean, one thing that always amazes me is how the massacres of Native peoples is always sort of ignored and tiptoed around when it happened so recently…yet, the Holocaust is always talked about.
MS: Do you know of any other Natives in the “biz” (comic industry)?
WA: I have met one, he’s an editor. More often than not, the subject doesn’t come up, because I don’t look physically Native American straight off the bat. Usually the thing that starts that conversation is my name, and with almost all Native people I have met, it has started that way. I think if I had a common name, no one would suspect. Although I’ve been mistaken for Russian and Japanese before because of my name as well.
MS: Any words of wisdom for others (Native or non) looking to do what you do?
WA: I always tell people who ask me this to do what they are passionate about. Do it stubbornly, and with open ears. In that, I mean fight like hell to get where you want to be, but still be open to new understanding, experiences and knowledge because that’s the quickest way to grow and become better at what you do.
MS: Anything I’ve missed here?
WA: Nothing I can think of, one hell of a thorough interview. It was great to be able to sit down and spend some time thinking about these questions and putting them out there. So thanks!!