Nfld. & Labrador

Mi'kmaw artist drawing on heritage for Indigenous Marvel superheroes

Bay St. George’s David Cutler is one of several illustrators working on a new comic book featuring Indigenous and Native American heroes and artists.

David Cutler of the Qalipu First Nation says 'it's an important book, for huge reasons'

M'ikmaw artist David Cutler brings artistic talent as his culture as a member of the Qalipu First Nation to Marvel's Indigenous superheroes. (Submitted by David Cutler)

An artist from Bay St. George, N.L., is making his Marvel Comics debut in a book that's being called important not just for what it's saying, but for who is saying it.

Marvel's Voices: Indigenous Voices No. 1 features stories about Indigenous and Native American superheroes, all for the first time written and illustrated by creators with Indigenous backgrounds — creators like David Cutler, a Mi'kmaw illustrator and member of the Qalipu First Nation. 

"To their credit they have a fairly large stable of [Indigenous heroes], more than you think, and for the first time really put them in the hands of Native American and First Nations writers and artists to tell those stories," Cutler told CBC's St. John's Morning Show on Friday.

Marvel debut long in the making

Cutler has been illustrating comics for 10 years, working on titles like Adventure Time at Boom Studios and Grimm's Fairy Tales at Zenoscope. But the opportunity to work for Marvel Comics, publishers of Spider-Man, Iron-Man and The X-Men, came as a shock. 

"I'd been trying to work for Marvel for many years.… It's been a few years since I threw my hat in so I wasn't expecting anything. An email comes completely out of the blue. The subject line is 'Draw for a Marvel comic?' and immediately I thought it was a scam … so I was ready to delete it. But luckily, I was like, 'Well, I'd better take a look at least.'"

Cutler, now based in Toronto, says when he got the job he couldn't wait to share the news.

"I couldn't believe it. I called my mom. It was 1:30 in the morning Newfoundland time, and she was over the moon."

Doing right by Indigenous peoples

It's the first time many of these characters have had Indigenous creators at the helm.

"By and large, a lot of these characters are created by a guy named Chris Claremont, the writer of the X-Men comics for the entire '80s. He created quite a few, but he is a British guy," says Cutler.

Marvel has many Indigenous and Native American superheroes, but they're created and written mostly by non-Indigenous people. (Marvel Comics)

Indigenous Voices features several stories from different creative teams, focusing on different characters. Cutler's story, written by Stephen Graham Jones and featuring the character Silver Fox, is about the scars left on the Blackfoot Nation by colonization.

He found inspiration in the traditional dress of the Blackfoot Nation, which he describes as beautiful, ornate, and in its own way already superheroic.

There was "pressure all around" in creating the work, said Cutler.

"You want to do right by the Blackfoot Nation, you want to do right by all the First Nations, you want to do right by your own, by the Qalipu Nation.… Hopefully I managed, but it was a weighty responsibility."

Heroes for a marginalized world

Marvel Voices: Indigenous Voices No. 1 was released in comic shops Wednesday, and Cutler looks forward to hearing what people think, particularly people of the Blackfoot Nation.

He says it's a book that is needed, and very much of 2020.

Cutler's story features the characters Silver Fox and Trigo, members of the Blackfoot Nation. (Marvel Comics)

"It's an important book for huge reasons," he said. "After the last year, or the last four years, Indigenous communities are feeling more marginalized than ever, more forgotten and overlooked than ever.

"I think a book like this is a reminder to ourselves, and to the world, that we're here and we matter and we're writers, that we're artists and we're creative, and sometimes we're superheroes.

"We're part of the world, we have a lot to be proud of." 

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Andrew Hawthorn


Andrew Hawthorn is a writer and reporter working with the CBC in St. John's.

With files from The St. John's Morning Show