IPI: Indigenous Peeps in the Industry – 06

IPI #6 – Jay Odjick

Shoot-outs! Deadlines! Ash-can comics! Priests with hidden torture chambers! Mounties! Bush! McCain! Hitler! Eight-year-olds ‘packing’! Bold & Indented Text with Exclamation Points!! Algonquin comic creator, Joy Odjick, shares these elements and other stories with Michael Sheyahshe in this episode of IPI.

Jay and I first met when we were both interviewed for an article at Comic Book Resources, dealing with Indigenous characters in comic books. I feel a certain affinity to Jay as we are close in age and he seems just about as busy as me (WAAAY too many projects on the ‘burners’). Jay was also gracious enough to allow me to interview him for my book, Native Americans in Comic Books – to be able to include the viewpoint from a Native creative source in comics (of which, there were too few) really rocked(!). Since then, Jay and I have kept in contact and updated each other on our busy lives.

Jay sits down and hammers out some thoughtful responses to my irritating questions and, somehow, makes them exciting (no help from me!). Of course, just to tease Jay mercilessly, making the interview this spicey took him quite some time. Heh.

Additionally, please see Jay’s important notice at the bottom of the interview about some missing kids. Please spread the word and help in any way you can.

MS: Background info: what is your tribal affiliation and where are you from?

JO: I am a status Algonquin from the Kitigan Zibi community (band) in Quebec, Canada. I was born in the States, because my father was working there at the time, but he was born and raised in Kitigan Zibi (KZ).

MS: Did you have a lot of cultural interaction growing up? (Family gatherings, dances, ceremonies, etc.?)

JO: We moved back to KZ when I was a kid, and I lived on the reservation till I was about 16, when I left to go to college.

MS: When did you first get into comics?

JO: I got into comics while we were still living in the states. We lived in an Italian neighborhood in Rochester, New York that had a comic shop down the street from where we lived. We didn’t have a lot of money, but this was one of those shops where they took the books that didn’t sell, and ripped the covers off and sold ‘em for a dime or whatever, so we were way into that.

My mother also had a good friend who had a ton of comics and wanted to get rid of them, so he gave them to me and my brother…and, I mean, that was incredible. We had, like, Marvel comics from the 60s in that collection.

MS: Do you have a favorite comic; title or type?

JO: I don’t know that I have a favorite all time comic (The Watchmen and Preacher are close to that though) but I suppose my favorite comics character of all time is the Punisher. I got bit by that particular bug when I was really, really young; in that stack of comics I [mentioned], we had the second appearance of the character, and it was just really cool and different from other comic book characters; the black suit, the skull on the shirt…and, y’know, he killed people.

I wasn’t home at the time, but once, my brother was playing in front of the window of our apartment in Rochester, and this guy comes hauling ass down the street. This other dude is chasing him, yelling and whatnot, with a pistol. He opens fire, and literally, just takes this guy out, right in front of where we lived; my brother watching this whole scene. I get home later with my mother to a literal homicide scene; blood splatter dude, chalk outline, yellow tape, all that fun stuff.

So I think that’s why that character appealed to us both; we didn’t live in a world where a dude in spandex swung in and saved your ass, but people got shot. I think we could identify with a more edgy hero.

MS: Tell us more about the comic you’ve been working on; how did it all start / come about?

JO: Right now, I’m working on a comic for Bluewater Productions called The Odyssey Presents: Judo Girl / Venus. And I mean, not literally right now, but when I finish typing, I’m going right back to the drawing board; so it’s pretty close.

MS: When can we expect it and where can we buy it? (…and will there be an NDN discount?)

JO: The book I’m working on now is slated for early ’09. I can’t say an exact date for sure, because of the way distribution works, but I think February is the month Bluewater is looking at. This will be the first comic I’ve had published by Diamond, so it’ll be available at basically ANY comics shop; and I’m going to talk specifics here, to make sure that anyone interested in getting a-hold of one of these (or ten. Buy like, ten, and I’ll give Michael a big discount on his copy.).

Comics shops and retailers have to buy the books they stock their shelves with outright, from the distributor, in this case, a company called Diamond. Diamond receives the comics from publishers, then takes orders from retailers from their catalog, called Previews. Why am I boring you with this crap?

It’s because odds are, if you walk into a shop when the book comes out, they may not have it; what you would need to do is ask the retailer, or a super helpful comic shop employee to order the book for you, and they will set it aside for ya when it comes in. You may need a Diamond order code, which is basically like a serial number that the retailer can use to order the book; I’ll make that available at http://www.jayodjick.deviantart.com/, and my myspace page: www.myspace.com/jayodjick.

I will maybe even put together a nifty little graphic or banner that you can print out and just hand to the retailer with the order code right on it.

If you don’t have a comics shop near you, hit me up at myspace, or email me at Jayodjick@yahoo.com, and I’ll try to hook you up. Remember, if you buy a bunch of these, I will give Michael an awesome deal on his copy, and then I will, in turn, get a discount on his book he wrote. Ha!

(By the time the interview got done, we’re now IN the month of February, and as far as I know, the book is shipping next week. Not Michael’s fault whatsoever, I just got very swamped. Check out Bluewaterprod.com tho!)

MS: Keeping in mind your other talents, what is your specialty?

JO: I don’t know that I have a real specialty, art wise, but I think my favorite things to draw are superheroes and horror based stuff. It’s funny, because although I’ve worked on about a half dozen small press books, this will be the first work for hire gig I’ve done for an actual publisher, and it’s a book with two female leads; I would’ve said before that drawing women wasn’t one of my specialties, or that I never thought I’d be doing this kind of book, but it just goes to show; you never know.

JO: I just try to create exciting pages, to do things that will catch a reader’s eye, or capture the imagination, and to be as dynamic as possible. That’s what I appreciate about comics – bold layouts, exciting composition – the energy of art.

So that’s what I try to get across in my own work. Whether or not I am successful, I leave up to everyone else to decide – but I’ve never done any less than my absolute best.

MS: Did you get special training and/or education for the comic book work?

JO: I started reading comics when I was like, four, and my mother says I was writing original stories when I was around five. Now, notice I didn’t say she said I was writing GOOD stories, but I was writing.

Other than that, special training or education…just a lifetime of reading comics, and being kind of obsessed with the idea of telling stories, verbally, visually, thru dirty jokes, all the classy stuff.

But if that answer doesn’t work…yes, watching horror movies, wrestling, crappy sci-fi; very serious training, for hours and hours!

MS: Have you worked on any other comics?

JO: I’ve worked on my own self published series “The Raven“; I self published three issues and was working on the fourth when I met Arcana Studio honcho Sean O’Reilly at a convention; my company and Arcana had booths next to each other, the year Arcana won the Shuster for best Canadian publisher.

We talked about bringing the Raven to Arcana that weekend, and I mean…you’ve got to try to picture this: This was my FIRST ever con, my first booth at a con, and I had a chance to bring my own series to the company that won the award for best comic book publisher on the country.

I signed on; and from there we kicked around ideas for how to continue that series, and went kind of back and forth as to the nature of the Raven comic there; I changed the title to Kagagi, the Algonquin word for Raven, and decided to revamp the series in a double sized one shot.

So there’s that, which was one of my two babies; the other actually reached a much, much larger audience than the Raven did – and I actually sold over 2000 copies of the first issue of the Raven!

I created, wrote, and penciled a comic for Kevin Smith’s MoviePoopShoot.com website called Power Hour, which was a kind of parody about a team of superpowered people; not so much HEROES, maybe, but people who wanted to be, or wanted to be perceived as such.

I really, really have a soft spot for that comic; we did some really strong numbers on it, because of Kevin, and the fact he has an awesome fanbase. Overall, it was an awesome experience, working on the comic was great, Chris Ryall who runs IDW now was the webmaster, EIC there, so I got to hang my hat at a great site and work with some great people.

After Poop Shoot closed down, I had talked with a few print magazines about picking up the strip, but nothing ever came of it for a variety of reasons.

Other than that, some work for a few other small press books and some contract work my company had taken on.

MS: What are some comics with Native American characters in them that stand out to you?

JO: This is a tough question to answer, not for political reasons, just because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but there haven’t really been as many as you might hope.

I really enjoyed David Mack’s Echo character in Daredevil, and when I met him, we talked about the character, and his own Native blood – he said he tried to do something non-stereotypical with the character, and the fact that she now plays a bigger role in the Marvel Universe can be a pretty good thing – depending on where they go with it. David is a great and sincere guy, and I really thought that was a solid take on a Native character in a non-token role.

I also enjoyed the portrayal of several of the Natives in Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey’s Hex – in any Western, you never know what youre going to get, but Jimmy is a great guy too, and I thought the portrayal of Native people in the Hex comics I’ve read was respectful and well handled.

MS: What is your opinion about Indigenous characters in comics? Do you feel we portrayed properly?

JO: I don’t want to single-out comics, but I feel that Native people tend to be portrayed stereotypically in the media more often than not. That’s not to say it’s always like that, but more often than we should be, definitely.

I don’t want to rehash things I’ve said in the past for fear of lapsing into broken record syndrome – but here’s some food for thought.

In addition to Native people being portrayed inaccurately or unfairly in entertainment, we also, all too infrequently, see inaccurate or untruthful portrayals of our mistreatment at the hands of government.

If you’re doing a comic involving the reservation system, for example, take the time to read up on the history of reservations, the residential school system, the failed genocide attempted by governments and churches. I say “failed genocide,” because that’s exactly what it is.

Did you know that there were “schools” in Canada that had medieval style torture racks in their basements? That some priests threw babies, newborns into ovens, and that even Adolf Hitler himself admired America’s treatment of Native peoples?

Look into George H.W. Bush’s sterilization of Native women, John McCain’s history as the Chairman of Indian Affairs Committee and the eugenics programs that have been thrust upon us. All too often, writers tend to examine the effect but not the cause, and I think if they’re going to try to use reservations as settings for fiction, they need to look at a lot of the reasons things may be the way they are.

I’m going to tell a story about an act of what I consider heroism now, that I think was kind of lost over the years. When the Indian Agent, the Priest and the RCMP came to my grandfather’s house to collect my father, who was about 8 at the time, and his siblings, my grandfather boarded up his home, the windows and doors. He told them to get off his land, and there was a bit of what you would call a standoff.

My father, unbeknownst to the government agents, was actually a few metres away, in the bush laying down with a rifle trained on the men who had been sent. He said if they had tried to take his father away, he was going to open up on them.

Can you imagine that, just for a moment – being ready to take a man’s life, at that age? Our people have a history of standing up to oppression, standing up for one another, and even, in large numbers, standing up for the countries who have oppressed and tried to eradicate us in various wars, even in the present day.

It’s time those stories came to be told as well.

MS: Do you know of any other Natives in the “biz” (comic industry and/or video game industry)?

JO: Not as many as I’d like to, but I’m hoping that in the years to come we’ll start seeing more and more of our people not only in comics, but in all forms of media. Or, if you are a Native person in the comics business and I’ve never heard of you, give me a shout! Let me know that it’s my fault I haven’t yet.

MS: Any words of wisdom for others (Native or non) looking to do what you do?

JO: Run. Screaming.

Seriously, if you really, really are serious about doing it, and want to do it, you should neither care what I say, or really even listen to it; you should already BE doing it. Screw the hacks and bitter losers who anoint themselves critics and whatnot, if you want to create comics, just create them. Whether that be online, self published, or even Xeroxed ashcan type comics, if it’s a passion, start creating some comics. The industry can be tough, but if you like the act of creating comics, just go for it! I’d love to have more to read.

Speaking directly to Native aspiring comics creators for a moment – don’t be put off by the fact that there haven’t been many of us in prominent roles in the industry as of yet. Our generation has opportunities that the ones before us did not and we can do anything we put our minds to.

Often, the toughest criticism of our work will come from other Native people, or those calling themselves that. I’ve had people harshly criticize my artwork, often on a personal level, and some of them have even worked for the Canadian government or organizations funded by the government.

Always take a moment to consider the motivation of those who would seek to belittle or demean you or your work, and concentrate on pleasing the person who should be your toughest critic by far – yourself.

MS: Anything I’ve missed here? Anything you’d like to ‘plug’?

JO: It’s way too early to plug, but here is a big part of the reason I haven’t been doing more comics stuff of late – I’m working on a TV show for APTN up here in Canada. It’s a show called Pirouette, aimed at children aged, I believe 4-6, and will feature animated segments titled “Anoki.”

I’m doing character designs and providing artwork for the Anoki segments, which will help kids learn some words in three separate languages, including Algonquin. I’m excited to be involved in the project, because it is a dynamic, engaging way of reaching kids, and also falls in line with something I believe very strongly in; using media to help our kids learn some words in their Native languages.

I am doing a set of three children’s books with the Algonquin Anishinabeg National Tribal Council that we will be distributing to every Algonquin community in Quebec, absolutely free of charge that will also help kids to learn words. Each book has a simple theme, Animals and Places, for example, so on each page, the kids learn two new words.

Pirouette is underway now, unfortunately, I have no launch date for the series; but if you like my art, check out the Anoki segments – for more on the show, or to learn when it will be on television, check out the studio, Nish Media’s website at http://www.nishmedia.tv/, or drop by my gallery, which I update with info at http://www.jayodjick.deviantart.com/. Also, look for me at any of the usual social networking sites!

There is one thing I’d like to take a moment to talk about before we wrap this up, and this is more important than me and my opinions. Two Native Youths, girls from my reserve, one of whom is a cousin of mine, Maisy Odjick and Shannon Alexander went missing this past September 5th, 2008.

Please visit the website http://www.findmaisyandshannon.com/and help spread the word across Indian Country, which knows no borders.

Migwetch! Thank you!

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