IPI #7 – Jacques La Grange
|Greetings. In this edition of ‘IPI’ – my ongoing blog series that celebrates Indigenous artists, writers, and other creative individuals working either in the comic book or video game industry (whew!) – I talk with Jacques La Grange.Jacques introduction:
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Michael Sheyahshe (“MS”): Background info: what is your tribal affiliation and where are you from?
Jacques La Grange (“JLG”): I am a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe from San Carlos, AZ, just outside of Globe, AZ. I was born in Santa Fe, NM and grew up in Espanola, NM (Lowrider Capital of the U.S.!) I also lived in Los Alamos, NM, you might have heard of this place: this is where U.S. government created the Atomic Bomb that we dropped on Japan in WWII. I moved a lot, I guess I was searching for something? I’ve lived in Albuquerque, NM; Phoenix, AZ; Riverside, CA; Ft Dueshene, UT; Jesup, IA. It wasn’t until I ended up in San Carlos, AZ where I found myself.
MS: Did you have a lot of cultural interaction growing up? (Family gatherings, dances, ceremonies, etc.?)
JLG: That is a tough one to answer…you see, I went to live with my Father when I was very young. I did not meet my mother until I was a Sophomore in High School. Up to that point it was with the only family I knew, my father and brother. I decided to move to San Carlos to get to know my mother and the other 500 family members on the rez. It just happened that my little sister was having her Sunrise Dance. My mother took it upon herself to educate me in our ways. She called it ‘Apache Boot Camp’, and it was!
There was a lot of work to set up camps for the ceremony. I can recall my mother telling me, “Do whatever the Medicine Man asks you.” I got to tell you: from the singers and the Crown Dancers…I WAS HOOKED!! Later on I ended going to Sherman Indian High in Riverside, CA and it was there I was joined the Apache Club. I was able to sing and dance center field of Dodger Stadium on Native American Day. The Apache Club performed throughout Southern Cal and was one the best times of my life! It was during a performance that I meet a drum group called, “Bear Springs Singers.” They invited me to learn how to sing Northern Style Pow Wow, which is something I truly miss!
MS: When did you first get into comics?
JLG: Growing up as a child I was very sick with Asthma and I would be hospitalized a lot. My father would bring me comic books. I can remember at age 4 or 5 when I was introduced to Superman in Action Comics. I learned a lot from Superman…about doing the right thing, standing up for what you believe in. I have been a fan of comics ever since!
MS: What is your favorite comic book of all time…something that turns FRI-SUN into a ‘lost weekend’?
JLG: My favorite comic of all time would have to be Superman. But more recently I would have to say it is a tie, between Walking Dead and Scalped! I had the pleasure of meeting Robert Kirkman and had lunch with Jason Aaron.
MS: What is your specialty in the biz?
JLG: I’m not sure if I have a specialty, except for the fact that I’m actually Native American working on a Native American book. I would say that my strongest skill is penciling. I love to pencil…I get upset when I have to ink over my work!
MS: Did you get special training and/or education for this?
JLG: Actually no: I’m self taught. At first I had a script for Shadow Wolf. I tried getting someone to draw the book for me. No one would or if I did find someone they would flake out on me. After 3 years of sitting on the script, I made a decision if this book was going to come out. I would need to learn how to draw. Literally, I started with stick figures. I bought How to Draw the Marvel Way.
I was fortunate that Atomic Comics had a drawing club called the Nuclear Artist Society. A lot of the people that have their own books now were also part of the drawing club. It was really nice to be able to get critiqued every week. I learned a lot from a bunch of amazing artists. It took 4 years of constantly drawing and refining and then drawing some more! Seven years after I wrote the script. I drew Shadow Wolf and it made its debut at Phoenix Comic Con.
MS: What other comics/projects have you worked on?
JLG: Prior to doing the Shadow Wolf comic, I was really into making Native American Films. The films were tribal specific, which brought awareness to community issues such as throwing away your grease after making frybread. I kid you not! HUD on Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community asked if I could make them a film on this issue. It was a great experience.
We had asked the Fire Department if they could blow up a house for us. They did not agree to that. So we asked HUD to build a set for us and the Fire Department blew that up instead. It was a great experience because I was teaching a film making class for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale in Salt River. So the community kids really got involved and we won the Amerid National Video Contest. Based on some of those films I was asked to go to New York to see if I would be interested in a Native American film, but the budget was cut and that film was never made.
MS: Do any comic books with Native American characters in them?
JLG: My character Shadow Wolf is Native American. Doesn’t have any specific tribal affiliation, but at one point I wanted him to be Jicarilla Apache.
MS: Do you have an opinion about Indigenous characters in comics, video games, and/or pop culture?
JLG: I believe that Native Americans need to be the ones to tell their own story. Look, I’m not trying to say that the films that John Woo (Windtalkers) or Rich Schroeder (Black Cloud) made are bad. I’m for anyone trying to do something good! Plus I’m a huge John Woo fan and Rick Schroeder reviewed one of my films and gave me some real good advice.
Grant Morrison who writes for DC traveled through Arizona and fell in love with Native Culture. In fact, he loved it so much he wrote Super Chief. Grant stopped writing Super Chief because he felt that he was doing an injustice to Native Americans, due to the fact that he himself is not Native American.
I would say that I’m really happy that Native American stories are great to see in games, books, and movies, but I honestly think its time for us to tell our own stories! I really dig the way Natives are portrayed in the Twilight films. Aside from the fact that it’s Twilight, the Wolf Pack kicks major butt! They are warriors, protecting their people. Trying to do the right thing and definitely not being sidekicks. I honestly believe that they are positive representation of Native People.
MS: Do you know of any other Natives in the “biz” (comics/gaming industry)?
JLG: When I first came out with the Shadow Wolf, I found out about Tribal Force and it looked AWESOME! I found Jon Proudstar on MySpace and began talking to him about my book. He told me to reach to Ryan Huna the artist of Tribal Force because he owns the rights to the character GAN. I also know Arigon Starr who created Super Indian. My wife’s cousin is Kiowa Gordon, who is part of the Wolf Pack in the Twilight films. Along with his mother Camille Nighthorse who just starred in More Than Frybread.
MS: Any words of wisdom for others (Native or non) looking to do what you do?
JLG: Yes I do, especially to our younger generation. Becoming educated doesn’t mean you are losing who you are as Native person, or the death of our culture. You can be both Traditional and Educated. Being both means that there are more opportunities to help keep our culture alive. I’ll put it this way: way back in the day before we had guns, we used a bow and arrow. Then the soldiers came with rifles and saw how effective those were. We picked them up and began to use them…because they helped us. You should see technology in the same way. Yes it is not traditional, but neither was that rifle and we made it ours. The same with Technology…we need to make that ours! Don’t be shy to talk to people about who you are and what you want to do. They only way we are going to change how Native Peoples are perceived, begin with us engaging others.