The world of comics and graphic novels has long been… shall we say, less than diverse. Not only with characters, but also with writers and artists. But that has changed in many ways, and if you’re looking for new comics/graphic novels to explore, Indigenous graphic novels are a great place to start.
What I love about graphic novels and comics is that the medium can help even the most reluctant readers. Visualizing a complicated point or a difficult story can really increase the impact of a story, and it can also be a great way to introduce difficult topics to students. Don’t get me wrong: it in no way waters down or simplifies the story. Instead, illustrations can work with the text to get things across more concretely, which is a great conversation starter. Even for adults and those who love to read, beautiful and powerful illustrations just add another rich layer to a text.
Indigenous voices have long been excluded or silenced from the cultural conversation. Each book on this list is written and/or illustrated by Indigenous creators and is set in either the United States or Canada. This is in no way a complete list, just a starting point. If you’re looking for even more Indigenous graphic novels and books, I recommend checking out Birchbark Books & Native Arts and Red Planet Books and Comics.
Rabbit Chase by Elizabeth LaPensée, KC Oster and Aarin Dokum
Aimée is a non-binary Anishinaabe middle school student who goes on a field trip with her school. The purpose of the journey is to make gifts to the water spirits known as Paayehnsag who protect the land. As the teachers educate the students about the problems with land development and more information about the water spirits, Aimée is mental, partly to avoid bullying her classmates. But then they accidentally wander off and find themselves in an alternate dimension that not only has traditional Anishinaab characters, but is also inspired by Alice in Wonderland. This is a beautifully written and illustrated graphic novel about exploring who you are, history, identity and community.
The Wool of Jonesy: Part 1 by Jonathan Nelson
Diné artist Nelson has created a unique story that will please both children and adults. This sleek graphic novel follows Jonesy the Sheep and all his adventures on the reservation. He’s just finished high school and isn’t quite sure what he wants to be yet. During the day he finds himself in different situations. This is a wordless comic that’s really great for kids to create their own stories and narratives about what’s going on for the character.
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Surviving the City Volume 1 by Tasha Spillett, Natasha Donovan and Donovan Yaciuk
Miikwan and Dez – who are Anishinaabe and Inninew respectively – are best friends. They live with Dez’s grandmother since Miikwan’s mother is missing. Set in urban Canada, this story follows them as they figure out where to go next. It’s a beautifully illustrated story that touches on the history of mistreatment of indigenous peoples in Canada (particularly women) and the current challenges they face – but also about community, hope and survival.
This Place: 150 Years Retold by various authors
This comprehensive graphic anthology examines 150 years of Canadian history from an indigenous perspective through stories. Each piece is accompanied by a timeline that helps the reader give context to what was actually happening in the story as the story took place. There are tales of genocide, colonialism, criminalization of indigenous traditions, and more, along with magical realism and dystopian elements.
Sugar Falls: A Residential School Story by David A. Robertson, Scott B. Henderson and Donovan Yaciuk
This graphic novel is based on the true story of Betty Ross, an elder of the Cross Lake First Nation. After being abandoned as an infant, she is adopted by a loving family but taken away at the age of eight and sent to boarding school. Throughout her experience, she holds onto things her father told her to fuel her desire to survive. This short graphic novel is a great way to teach dorm history to middle school kids.
The Woman in the Woods and Other North American Stories Edited by Kate Ashwin, Kel McDonald and Alina Pete
This is the fifth volume in the Cautionary Fables and Fairytales series and the stories are updated retellings of ancient First Nations folklore tales across the continent including Chickasaw, Odawa, Navajo and Cree to name a few. With monochromatic art and plenty of modern and culture-specific details, the stories offer the reader a genuinely enjoyable treat. This would be a great introduction to Native American lore for a middle-class reader—or anyone at all!
Come Home, Indio: A Memoir by Jim Terry
Terry has created a graphic memoir about his childhood and trying to find his place between his family’s Ho-Chunk community in Wisconsin and his classmates in Chicago. He never manages to fit in anywhere and eventually turns to alcohol because of the isolation he faces. But Terry also writes about finding help and hope, his journey to sobriety, and finding his place at Standing Rock.
Giju’s Gift (Adventures of the Pugulatmu’j) Volume 1 by Brandon Mitchell and Veronika Barinova
When Mali loses the hair clip that her giju’ made for her, she is in despair. Her mother thinks she just lost it, but Mali knows the Pugulatmu’j took it. The Pugulatmu’j, or Little People, were the original guardians of the land, and as we forgot them over time, they began playing tricks on us…like stealing hair clips. But when Mali’s suspicions are proven correct, she realizes she must help Puug get her beloved clip back. She goes on adventures and learns more than she ever expected.
Which ones will you read first? If you are looking for even more Indigenous books, check out this post on Indigenous Poets You Should Know and this post on Indigenous Memoirs.