Native Publisher, Native Comic Con Creator and Native Comic Store Owner Dr. Lee Francis is bringing Native Superheros to Indian country.
A close friend of his once called Dr. Lee Francis, the creator of the first Native Comic Con and owner/operator of Native Realities Press and Red Planet Books and Comics, “the Stan Lee of Native comics.”
The nickname fits, because he’s the owner of the first Indigenous comic book publishing company, the creator of the first Indigenous Comic Con, and now the owner of the first Indigenous comic book store. The self-proclaimed Indigenerd and Laguna Pueblo Dr. Lee Francis even shares part of Stan Lee’s name.
Realizing the drastic need for Native representation in the world of animation, comics and books and the lack of opportunities for Native artists, Dr. Lee Francis says he refused to wait around for a big break into the mainstream comic book world.
“I’m not going to wait for other people to provide me the opportunity, because often I feel like I’m chasing the train at that point. At a young age, if I put out a job application and I didn’t get hired, I created my own job,” he told ICMN.
As the owner of Red Planet Books and Comics. Dr. Lee Francis says the store was the inevitable next step in a long line of firsts.
“In places where there is a lot of Native population, we should have our own spaces, at the very minimum, just be able to go and celebrate one another, and to put stuff on the shelves that’s not necessarily going to be something at Barnes and Noble.”
Francis began thinking about starting a store several years ago when he first visited Resistencia Bookstore in Austin, Texas. He initially wanted to open Red Planet the week before the first Indigenous Comic Con, in November of 2016, but he decided to devote his energy to the comic con.
The space for Red Planet Books and Comics is a collaboration with the Southwest Organizing Project, social and economic justice organization in Albuquerque New Mexico. Francis and his business partner Aaron Cuffee (Montauk/Shinnecock) came up with the name Red Planet, a nod to Indigenous people on the planet.
Dr. Francis says the store will have Native and some non-Native comics, with a focus on comics from his publishing company, Native Realities Press, such as Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers, Tribal Force and The Wool of Jonesy. Francis says he is building up inventory. He says there are independent comic book stores in Albuquerque that stock of a variety of mainstream comics, but Red Planet will focus on Indigenous comics.
He has plans for tables in the back for playing tabletop games or regular meetups for role playing games. He also has plans around Halloween to create an “Escape Room” where groups follow clues to try and get out of a room they are trapped in. He won’t be carrying any books that are are stereotypical, oversexualized or with histories written by non-Natives.
Dr. Francis says that if it isn’t something he can show to his kids, he doesn’t want to sell it.
“I’m not showing Breaking Bad to my kid,” he says, referring to the wildly popular cable series based on a science teacher who becomes a methamphetamine drug king.
He also says for the same reason, he won’t be selling copies of the comic series Scalped by Jason Aaron, which was just recently picked up for a pilot by the TV network WGN America. Scalped is based on the negative stereotypes surrounding casino’s in Indian country.
“I don’t need more Native villains. I need more Native superheroes and moral relativism.”
As a longtime fan of comics Dr. Francis says he remembers browsing through the one rack of comics at Duran’s Central Pharmacy in Albuquerque. He was allowed to pick one comic. One of his favorites was Marvel Universe Almanac, which covered each character from Marvel in detail. He would pour over the characters, learning their back stories and superpowers.
He says his favorite comic superheroes are Native Realities stars Jonsey the Sheep or all of Tribal Force, but when it comes to the mainstream the Cheyenne Marvel Comic’s mutant Forge is at the top of his list.
“I like the fact that he’s a techno mutant. There’s some stereotype issues with him. I just love that his power is techno power. That has nothing to do with a vision quest or throwing a spirit animal at somebody.”
Francis, admits that most Native kids who read comics probably started with non-Native characters like Batman, and may prefer the caped crusader to comics by and about Natives.
If I get some kids to change their minds to read the Wool of Jonesy than Batman. Then I’ve done my job and I’m going home.”
The second Indigenous Comic Con will be at Isleta Resort and Casino on November 10-12. The con will include special Native celebrity guests, panels, cos play, maker workshops, activities for teachers, and vendors. Tickets and program are coming soon!