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Re(a)d Man: Representing Native American Masculinity in Superhero Comics

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Abstract:

While stereotypes of the savage Native American man have appeared most typically in the western genre, they are the dominant mode of representation in superhero comics as well. This paper examines those representations and the ways in which integration of the Indian warrior figure into a genre focused on idealized white hyper-masculinity ultimately asserts the primacy of white masculinity over “red” masculinity. This is achieved through the narrative inscription of the Native American as a figure of a mythic national past and via the segmented form of comic book narration. This paper will examine that form in relation to a history of self-representation within Native American culture, especially the ledger drawings of the late 19th century.

In the late 19th century, Plains Indians held in captivity by the United States government were encouraged to record their history through drawings made on ledger paper. Ledger art maintained the tradition in Native American art of presenting sequential events on a single canvas or space without obvious demarcations of time and space, with the significant addition often of English language text to explain the content. Such art reflects a tension between Native American culture and Anglo American culture, the English text employed to render the images more legible for white readers. Significantly, these images were then sold to soldiers and tourists; these drawings were valued by whites both as a record of Native American history and as a consumer good.

The commodification and re-inscription of Native American self-representation anticipates the depiction of Native Americans in comic books. Comic books render the Native American subject as an object of the past, reflecting the status of ledger drawings as a material record for whites of a “vanishing” race. Comic books assert that the Native American has indeed disappeared, indicated by the perpetual placement of this subject in the mythic national past of the “Wild West.” Even when he is located in the present in the superhero genre, he is typically visually represented as belonging to the 19th century. This visual representation works in concert with the comic book form to fix the Native American as a historical signifier with no agency in the present, except that given him by white comic book creators and readers. While traditional Native American art indicates temporal and spatial continuity and circularity via the lack of rigid segmentation of images, comic book panels fragment subjects both physically and temporally. Panels affirm closure, not openness, and this sense of closure contributes to the narrative assertion that Native Americans are emblems of America’s mythic past. This paper explores the ideological underpinnings of the visual representation of Native Americans and the accompanying text, exploring the consequences of adapting images of Native American masculinity to the dictates of superhero comic books.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


Citation:
URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244290_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Yockey, Matt. "Re(a)d Man: Representing Native American Masculinity in Superhero Comics" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico, <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244290_index.html>

APA Citation:

Yockey, M. "Re(a)d Man: Representing Native American Masculinity in Superhero Comics" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244290_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: While stereotypes of the savage Native American man have appeared most typically in the western genre, they are the dominant mode of representation in superhero comics as well. This paper examines those representations and the ways in which integration of the Indian warrior figure into a genre focused on idealized white hyper-masculinity ultimately asserts the primacy of white masculinity over “red” masculinity. This is achieved through the narrative inscription of the Native American as a figure of a mythic national past and via the segmented form of comic book narration. This paper will examine that form in relation to a history of self-representation within Native American culture, especially the ledger drawings of the late 19th century.

In the late 19th century, Plains Indians held in captivity by the United States government were encouraged to record their history through drawings made on ledger paper. Ledger art maintained the tradition in Native American art of presenting sequential events on a single canvas or space without obvious demarcations of time and space, with the significant addition often of English language text to explain the content. Such art reflects a tension between Native American culture and Anglo American culture, the English text employed to render the images more legible for white readers. Significantly, these images were then sold to soldiers and tourists; these drawings were valued by whites both as a record of Native American history and as a consumer good.

The commodification and re-inscription of Native American self-representation anticipates the depiction of Native Americans in comic books. Comic books render the Native American subject as an object of the past, reflecting the status of ledger drawings as a material record for whites of a “vanishing” race. Comic books assert that the Native American has indeed disappeared, indicated by the perpetual placement of this subject in the mythic national past of the “Wild West.” Even when he is located in the present in the superhero genre, he is typically visually represented as belonging to the 19th century. This visual representation works in concert with the comic book form to fix the Native American as a historical signifier with no agency in the present, except that given him by white comic book creators and readers. While traditional Native American art indicates temporal and spatial continuity and circularity via the lack of rigid segmentation of images, comic book panels fragment subjects both physically and temporally. Panels affirm closure, not openness, and this sense of closure contributes to the narrative assertion that Native Americans are emblems of America’s mythic past. This paper explores the ideological underpinnings of the visual representation of Native Americans and the accompanying text, exploring the consequences of adapting images of Native American masculinity to the dictates of superhero comic books.


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