A Comic Perspective: The Critical Insights of Aboriginal Cartoonists

Auteur / Author: 
Allan J. RYAN (New Sun Chair in Aboriginal Art and Culture, Carleton University, Canada)
Vendredi 26 Août 2011 - 10:45

In recent years, several Aboriginal artists from across North America have embraced a familiar medium of pop culture critique and communication —
editorial and comic strip cartoons — to comment on a range of pertinent issues; such as tribal politics, the ignorance and insensitivity of tourists, the challenge of preserving traditional values, and the impact of global events on local tribal communities. A humorous take on reality often serves to foreground a perceived threat, be it casinos, corrupt politicians, AIDS or breast cancer. Such drawings are primarily published in small community newspapers across “Indian country,” and thus, are largely unknown beyond its borders. Because they emerge from, and reflect back, community concerns and experience, these drawings provide a unique lense through which to better understand indigenous communal dynamics in both rural and urban contexts.
Many of the artists have created memorable characters and scenarios; among them: Vincent Craig’s Navajo superhero, Muttonman; the teasing relationship between a grandmother and her grandson in Karl Terry’s strip, “Otter”; the astute observations of L. Frank Manriquez’s California Coyote in “Acorn Soup”; the wry wisdom in the banter between two Native women in Danialle Joseph’s “Pow Wow Trail”; the bizarre talking hats in Sean Standing Bear’s “Adventures in Osage Country”, and the finely drawn English/Inuktitut language cartoon strips of the Inuit artist, Alootook Ipellie. One can easily draw connections between these works and the cartoon motifs painted on the fine art pottery of Cochiti Pueblo artist, Diego Romero, or the comic figures in the acrylic paintings of Cree artist Gerald McMaster.
This work can be considered from several perspectives: as sub-genres of both contemporary Native American fine art and Native American humour; as a distinct form of indigenous journalism and ethnography of mainstream culture; as the continuation of a widespread oral tradition that delights in punning and language play and the comic masking of serious matters. As verbal/visual teaching tools they also perpetuate the tradition of trickster narratives; and as graphic/textual commentaries on contemporary indigenous experience they fall within the purview of contemporary Aboriginal literature.