Smash Pages Q&A: Michael Sheyahshe on ‘Moonshot’

The writer, artist and scholar discusses the new anthology he’s co-editing with Elizabeth LaPensée.

Michael Sheyahshe is a writer, artist and scholar who remains perhaps best known for his book Native Americans in Comic Books: A Critical Study. He’s written stories for both volumes of the Moonshot anthology, and wrote the forward to the first one. His new project is Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection Volume 3, which he’s co-editing with Elizabeth LaPensée

The book will feature work from creators including Lee Francis, Weshoyot Alvitre, Jeffrey Veregge, Jon Proudstar and Rebecca Roanhorse, and is currently being kickstarted by AH Comics. Michael was kind enough to answer a few questions about his work and what readers can look forward to in the new volume.

How did you first come to comics?

I’m not sure I ever had an initiation that was an a-ha moment. I can’t remember a time when comics – or at least the pop culture influences – were not in my life. I remember my third or fourth birthday party having a huge Spider-Man cake. That young it looked like it took up the entire table, but I’m betting it was just a regular-sized sheet cake. I remember these things from a very very early age, and they really haven’t stopped.

How did you get involved with Moonshot?

I’d been involved with volumes 1 and 2, not only as a contributor but writing the introductions. For volume 3, Andy talked with Beth and myself about possibly editing.

Have you edited a comics anthology before this volume?

This will be my first time editing a comics anthology. I’m usually a contributing writer or artist, so this will be quite fun.

You and Beth I’m sure know a lot of writers and artists, plus there are the contributors to the first two books. How do you start assembling a book like this?

That’s one thing we’re working out. When Hope [Nicholson] and Andy [Stanleigh] were doing it as a single team we had a lot of exposure to the feedback they gave writers and artists, what they were looking for as far as cohesiveness. That as an introductory sort of lesson was fantastic. I think that Beth [LaPensée] and I will be using that as well as our own ideology and ideas about what we feel like should be a cohesive collection of thematically framed stories and narratives. I think it will go pretty well. She and I are working out how to read and comment to each other, but she and I have utilized email and messages for a long number of years so we’re pretty decent about communicating with each other.

Beyond just assembling a cohesive volume where all the stories are in conversation with each other, this is the third volume of a series so they’re in conversation with those as well.

Exactly. And like I said I think it’s great we have these other two volumes that we were a part of and seeing how Andy and Hope worked together. But I think you’re right. Beth and I have our own ideas about Indigenous representation in pop culture and we’ve very actively given voice to that in our own realms, so we’ll certainly use that expertise as well to add to the stories.

Related to that, you wrote Native Americans in Comic Books: A Critical Study, which was a great book, but I wonder if you could talk about how you’ve seen things change in the past decade and what excites you right now

Honestly just the sheer number of Indigenous individuals telling stories is quite exciting. Even from the time I began writing the book to when it came out in 2008, there was only a few creative people in the comics and video game industries I was able to reach out to and include in the book. As soon as it was published I began finding all of these other people like Weshoyot Alvitre and Arigon Starr and Lee Francis. It’s fantastic now that it’s exponentially exploded. What gets me excited is not only those Indigenous people who are involved telling our own stories, but the ability to continue to successfully create. My hope is at some point that we get global commercial successes in whatever genre of pop culture – movies, video games, whatever. That we as a people are able to tell our own stories in such a successful manner that it compares to the big comic book houses like Marvel and DC.

Related to that, could you talk about what Indigenous Futurism is. I mean I’m a white guy, but this is a term I didn’t know five years ago, but now I see a lot of it. For people who don’t know, what is it?

It’s interesting. As you mentioned, whether you’re white or non-native or Native, this is a new term. It was coined by Beth’s mother, Grace L. Dillon, really based on the idea of Afro-futurism, which we’ve had in our collective point of view and understood. We’ve taken that and made it Indigenous. More to your point, I think that really it gives voice and a coined phrase to what we’ve all been doing which is celebrating and spotlighting Indigenous culture for its continuance and giving credence to how deep the experience is. Whatever that culture may be – being specific rather than pan-Indian about it. And celebrating it to a point where it celebrates Indigenous perspective of any sort of future. It doesn’t have to be a scifi perspective or a futuristic perspective, but gives the nebulous unformed ideas that a lot of us have been working in, which is to promote Indigenous voice and to promote our stories, but at the same time honoring who we are as a foundation.

There’s one quote that tried to define Indigenous Futurism that’s always stayed with me, “it’s about past/present/future–the hyperpresent now. That we look seven generations before, and seven generations ahead.”

Right. And for a visualization you could consider a big tapestry of all those things woven together into one cohesive thing.

I think that’s what so many people have found so interesting and so exciting about it. That it’s not simply having Indigenous characters, but to bring something culturally specific, to bring in new ideas, in ways that really add to and transform these stories.

Right and I think you make a good point. I’m not going to disparage Marvel or DC or any of the big places. I am so happy that those places include Native characters. But again what makes this more exciting, as you alluded to, is making sure that there’s not just one way to tell a Native story. The most important part comes from that person’s culture. As we talked about looking seven generations back or being in the hyper-present, it’s about here’s the way I do that and here’s the way someone else does that. It’s an Indigenous storytelling narrative device, but it doesn’t have to be this way. It doesn’t have to be the Marvel way. It doesn’t have to be the DC way. Like you mentioned, it’s not just having that character present in the story – which is fantastic – but take it two or three steps further. Maybe this character celebrates the past specifically, and this one explains why a certain aspect of material culture is important for this Indigenous group, and another does away with all those trappings. All those things are what makes it just as exciting for me. The ability for us to be at the helm and control the situation and say, look, this is what I mean by what it means to be Indigenous.

So why did you take the job? Why are you excited about this book?

First, I’m very proud to have been a part of both Volumes 1 and 2, and I’m just as proud to be a part of Volume 3. I’m very excited to see where it goes. We have a lot of the same really great Indigenous talent and I’m looking forward to those, but we also have new voices, new artists and writers to showcase in this volume. For me that’s one of the most exciting things. Showcasing these other individuals who have this creative energy. Any time we can spotlight Indigenous creative people and show what they can do as well as continue to have a viable and successful space for us all. Anytime we have something where someone new comes into now we can show them what we did well and what we can do better. We can all grow professionally together.

I know that one of the contributors is Rebecca Roanhorse, and I’ve had a lot of conversations with a lot of people about her work over the past year, because she’s one of the biggest fantasy writers to emerge recently. And then you have a lot of people like Jon Proudstar and Richard van Camp who comics readers will know.

Exactly. There’s a lot of individuals that are coming on who are really bringing with it a new energy. And a lot of people doing good work. As you know Lee Francis has a Native owned comic shop here in Albuquerque and he’s doing a lot of work with his own imprint, Native Realities. Jon Proudstar is one of the forerunners who did Tribal Force. There’s a lot of really great people doing great things. A lot of new voices and new creative talent as well. It’s a really good mixture of a lot of people.

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