Fans hope Marvel comic book improves Native representation

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This Aug. 19, 2020, image shows Aaron Cuffee of Red Planet Books & Comics in Albuquerque, N.M., as he discusses the potential that could come from Marvel Comics' effort to assemble a gallery of Native artists and scribes for "Marvel Voices: Indigenous Voices #1." The anthology will revisit some of Marvel's Native characters. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

Past portrayals of Native American or Indigenous comic book superheroes would often follow the same checklist — mystical powers, an ability to talk to animals and a costume of either a headdress or a loincloth.

“Poor research was done. They were just going off of TV and film,” said artist Jeffrey Veregge of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe in Washington state. One of his biggest complaints is that mainstream “heroes from every place else had actual costumes" while Native characters weren't represented well.

Growing up reading comic books on his tribe's land outside Seattle, Veregge related more with non-Native heroes like Iron Man or Spider-Man. Now, he's “living a dream,” overseeing a Marvel comic book about Native stories told by Native people.

Marvel Comics announced this month that it's assembled Native artists and writers for “Marvel Voices: Indigenous Voices #1,” an anthology that will revisit some of its Native characters. It's timed for release during Native American History Month in November.

Native comic book fans hope it's a new start for authentic representation in mainstream superhero fare. Marvel says the project was planned long before the nation's reckoning over racial injustice, which has prompted changes including the Washington NFL team dropping its decades-old Redskins mascot.

“It’s correcting a problem that started a long time ago,” Veregge said of the comic book project.

Veregge, who has drawn more than 100 covers for Marvel and other major comic book publishers, was a natural fit to lead the project. In February, he wrapped up an exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in New York City. “Of Gods and Heroes” was his interpretation of Marvel protagonists like Black Panther and Thor, integrating shapes and lines inspired by tribal art styles.

“You want to make sure people recognize the characters themselves, but I also want them to see it’s a Native voice behind that,” Veregge said.