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Dr. IndigiNerd on Creating the World’s Only Native Comic Book Shop

As any avid comic book fan knows, comics have something for everyone. Horror fantasy? Yes. Historical reimaginings. Sure. Futuristic romance with a dash of superhero action? You bet. Our wildest comic dreams come to fruition through a plethora of independent creators. They bring these stories to life, frequently filling diversity gaps left by larger comic publishers. Comic writers, artists, and colorists create their own lanes to craft tales that spark imagination, honor their heritage, and declare a future that isn’t white-centric.

However, these stories are sometimes hard to find in a sea of creative offerings. The average comic maker—especially those from marginalized groups—certainly doesn’t have the marketing resources of Marvel Comics. That’s where comic shops like Red Planet Books & Comics come into play. This Albuquerque, New Mexico based business is not only Native-owned, but is the only comic shop in the world that strictly publishes and sells comics by Indigenous creators. Red Planet provides a unique space and platform for Indigenous creatives to amplify their work.

Dr. IndigiNerd

Nerdist caught up with Red Planet founder/owner, lifelong nerd, Laguna Pueblo tribe member, and comic distributor Dr. IndigiNerd, to chat about his vital work, what’s on his pull list, and much more. 

Nerdist: Before we get into Red Planet, I’d like to know more about your journey to fandom. What were the things you loved as a kid and when did you fall in love with comic books? 

Dr. IndigiNerd: So, I came by comics at a very early age. My dad was a huge, I’ll say, Indigenerd. An OG IndigiNerd, right? …Fantasy and science fiction were really his genre. We had bookshelves and books all over the place covering Native studies and geography. We had a lot of books focusing on academics and metaphysics and all of that, but there were sections of shelves that were just science fiction and fantasy… So, for me, that was what I was surrounded by growing up. We were also early adopters of technology. We had a TRS-80 when I was growing up… one of the first home personal computers. My dad was really a technologist. He was an Indigenous futurist.

But even around reading and literature, he didn’t delineate. He wasn’t like, “Oh, there’s important literature and then there’s kids’ books, and that’s comics.” My dad thought that any reading was good, and so he really encouraged it. I found comics, as far as I know, back from when I first started reading… it was really the floppies at the local rack. And that was what I fell in love with. And the stories were fantastic. 

Dr. IndigiNerd

What kind of stories grabbed your attention? 

Dr. IndigiNerd: A lot of it was technology. I was an early fan of Iron Man because I like technology and I loved the armor… I drew and traced Iron Man comics and all that kind of stuff. So, it was really important to me growing up. My dad [also] loved fantasy, and I was an early D&D player. My cousins played D&D and they brought me into it… I felt really welcomed in that sphere when I was growing up. The stories of the fantastical, the stories of the imaginative, the stories of space rangers and monster hunters were always present in childhood home and looked upon not only kindly, but encouraged. And then, as I got older, I would collect my own comics and I had boxes of them.

Your childhood laid a solid foundation for the work you’re doing with Red Planet. What led to its creation? And what are your ultimate goals for this business?

Dr. IndigiNerd: In 2014, I started our publishing line, Native Realities Press, with the idea of creating Indigenous-centric comic books, graphic novels, games, toys, and collectibles. And by “Indigenous-centric,” I’m mean media by, for, and about Native and Indigenous people. That was the original impetus. I wanted to really change the perceptions and representations of Native and Indigenous people in popular media. So, I started publishing some comics. That work is now sort of under Red Planet, which is both publishing and a shop. But at the time, it was just putting Native work out in the world. And we were getting some really good responses. People were really excited about this stuff because they’d never seen this before.

In 2016, I founded the Indigenous Comic Con as a way to be able to showcase all this work. I wanted to make sure that Native folks were represented not only in popular media, but across all spectrums. I wanted us to get together and have our own pop culture convention and highlight stuff for Native and non-Native audiences so that they could see all the cool stuff that Native folks were doing. I was like, “We’ve got a whole bunch of Native astronauts and Native alien hunters and detectives and all these other stories.” 

Dr. IndigiNerd

The year after the convention, we had all this stuff in the house. We had posters, banners, and all the stuff from the Comic Con plus all the books that we were selling. And my wife said, “You know what? This can’t stay in the hallway.” And I was like, “You’re right. We need space. And I can’t have everybody working here.” 

So, we found a downtown space in Albuquerque, New Mexico that was part of a campus from the Southwest Organizing Project. It was an old salon and sort of this dead space. I’d walk by it all the time. I asked [the owners], “Is anybody doing anything with this? Do you guys have plans?” And they’re like, “Well, we use it as a community space.” And I was like, “What if we open a bookstore? What if we open a comic shop?”

I wanted it to be like a tasting room. We’d do all the organizational stuff and have an office and then have a couple of shelves where people could buy comics, book, and various sundries from Comic Con. We did all the work of reformatting and refurbishing the shop and opened in June 2017. The whole idea was to create a space where people could experience what we did at the convention year round, a community space to showcase Indiginerdity. 

That’s an amazing journey! For folks outside of Albuquerque, what’s the best way to support and amplify Red Planet?

Dr. IndigiNerd: Check us online! That’s the main thing. We got new comics that come up all the time. You can check out our social media. You can check out my social media. I’m “dr.indiginerd” on Instagram and TikTok. Go and see the things that we’re doing… We carry as many [comics] as we can find, but there are so many folks that are local [to you] that may be Native and doing stuff that we don’t know. So take the extra time to go look for it and buy that stuff. That’s the biggest thing.

It’s great when I get a retweet, but unless you’re buying a book or buying a comic or buying that toy, a retweet or a share of some sort only goes so far. A “like” is awesome. A purchase puts money in my pocket and allows me to continue to do this work as an artist, and I’m saying this on behalf of other Native creatives. Social media’s great. Share it. We want you to do that and buy a book.

That tangible support is so vital for success. Now, let’s talk comics. I know you are well-versed on Indigenous comics, so which ones are on your pull list?

Dr. IndigiNerd: Oooh. There’s so many of them! A Girl Called Echo: The Pemmican Wars is a really great one. We also just put out a werewolf book called A Howl. It has wolves, werewolves, and rougarou. We just launched that last spring after a successful fall Kickstarter.  Another one is This Place, which covers 150 years of Indigenous history and studies. 

It can certainly be harder for folks to find these wonderful comics, so thank you for sharing a few suggestions. 

Dr. IndigiNerd: Sure! When we’re talking about a pull list, we don’t have a machine for Native communities like a Marvel machine, where we’re going to be constantly putting out something every single month. We don’t put out a lot of floppies. We do a lot more trade paperbacks. A lot more collected things are going out.

A reason why we opened the shop is to give a nudge, a shove really, to the industry to continue to do more of this kind of work for creatives. Create retail shops and spaces where these offerings are being sold beyond their initial early bump… Our goal is to get more consistent support. Right now, it’s more like quarterly blocks, but [more frequent offerings] is one of the things that we’re really working towards.

Hopefully, there will be more resources for that to happen, especially with the shifts happening in mainstream TV and film. There seems to be a recent rise in Indigenous representation with Prey and Namor’s appearance in Wakanda Forever. Do you think these portrayals are a beneficial step in the right direction? 

Dr. IndigiNerd: For superheroes, I think they’re absolutely great… I want to see more of them. I think our representation is still too few and far in-between in many ways. You get this push but there also has to be work around how to correct 400 years of stereotypes and history. I love Namor’s reorientation towards being an Indigenous character, but I really want more characters that focus on our home realms in a modern period… there’s still space for Indigenous people to be in cities. I think Echo is probably the MCU project that I’m most excited about. She operates in Manhattan… I like the redemptive arc, but I also Native villain stories not being “cowboys and Indians.” I actually don’t have a problem with Native villains who have some moral relativism and nuanced layers. 

I think there’s an amazing new foundation that is very different from past decades of Native and Indigenous identity and representation on the silver screen and television. I want to continue to see mainstream media look at Native identity as something that is fluid and flexible and allows us to play all of these characters and all of these positions. Not just necessarily the “Native,” capital N, but a person with Native background that doesn’t have to talk about it all the time. It’s there. It’s who they are. It’s how they exist. And they’re also the main character in this fun, freewheeling heist caper. I still haven’t seen a Native heist movie. I really want to see one.

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