Frame by frame 

Native artist and writer Steven Paul Judd is keeping busy, with Marvel’s Voices: Heritage #1 being released this month.

Hot on the heels of the release of The Rez Detectives, artist/writer/director Steven Paul Judd is poised once again to indigenize pop culture with his take on the Marvel Universe.

Marvel’s Voices: Heritage #1 is available Jan. 12.

It is a continuation of the Voices series that began with Marvel’s Voices: Indigenous Voices #1. The series focuses on Native and Indigenous writers and artists telling superhero stories from an Indigenous perspective, this year showcasing the talents of Rebecca Roanhorse, Nyla Innuksuk, Bobby Wilson, and Judd.

Judd, a Native Billy Jack of all trades, is a two time Emmy nominee and member of the Writer’s Guild of America, whose focus has turned to bringing new life to aged Jason Strongbow, better known as American Eagle.

“You hear about superheroes all the time and I know mutants get their powers when they turn into teenagers in the Marvel world. So I was thinking, you know your body changes again when you’re in your 60s. You start getting older and I wondered what happens to them if they get them when they’re 13,” Judd said of his interpretation of an aging American Eagle. “Does something happen? Does something change? My character is not a mutant per se. He’s just a regular person that got powers. I wanted to explore that world where maybe people don’t think you have value, maybe, but you still have gas left in the tank.”

Judd moves the story in a direction not often seen in comics as his tale focuses on Strongbow at age 75.

“It’s the idea of, do you give up on yourself. When you feel like other people have given up on you, is it just you giving up on yourself? Are you finding excuses? All those kinds of thoughts or themes I was interested in telling,” he said.

Even though it focuses on a Native character told from a Native perspective Judd sees it as a universal story.

“A lot of people probably have thought that about themselves, about their careers. You know, you kind of feel like you want to choose a story that can resonate and then be entertaining at the same time,” he said.

Judd is well known for taking beloved pop culture icons and turning them on their head, Indigenizing their perspective in order to help people see the effects of colonization on Native Peoples. His take on American Eagle is no different.

“If you hear you’re going to hear a superhero story, you’re probably not going to think it’s going to be a 75-year-old person, so I think from the jump it’s going to be a different viewpoint, a different take. And then if you hear a superhero story about a Native person you probably have a certain idea of what that means also and it’s definitely not that in my comic book, so whatever the first thing that comes to your mind that’s not what this comic is,” he said.

Judd’s DIY ethic and artistry has also been propelled to new heights. While many know him as the artist behind the enormous portrait of Sitting Bull comprised of 20,000 dice or the slyly cultural re-appropriative pop culture shirts for NTVS and Judd is much more than that.

Oklahoma’s Literati Press The Rez Detectives, a graphic novel for mid grade kids (and those of us that never quite grew up), co-written by Judd and Tvli Jacob (Choctaw) with illustrations by M.K. Perker was published in December, and his directorial work for The First Americans Museum Pow Wow Bus installation, a virtual cross Oklahoma trip to various pow wows that illustrates the unique cultures of some of the 39 Tribal Nations that make up Indian Country.

In the last year he was also one of ten chosen to create works of art for display at the U.S. Open. His acrylic piece, “All My Relations,’’ is a colorful explosion of hues meant to represent the varied tribal identities and governments of the 574 federally recognized, hundreds of state, and scores of unrecognized Native Nations that are the original Peoples of the land now known as America. It was eventually auctioned off with proceeds supporting the US Tennis Association Foundation and IllumiNative, a nonprofit initiative designed to increase the visibility of Native Nations & Peoples in American society.

Judd is ready for Native art to come out of the shadows and the expectations of what it is expected to be and into an era of everything it could be.

“I’m super excited. Years and years ago, I wrote on a television show called Zeke and Luther so, you know, I’m writing a TV show and now to see how far things have changed just in that short time with all the TV shows and also you have social media for it, you have YouTube, you have your phone to create those things,” he said.

“Not only can we make things ourselves but … I can get paid to do it. Studios are gonna buy it. So, you know, it’s one thing to think I can make this myself which is totally cool and it’s another thing to know, ‘Oh wait, you know, this is economically viable.’ Our stories can be made just like other people’s stories can be made too,” Judd said.

Judd has several irons on the fire in addition to his work with Marvel. One of his forthcoming projects is directing a short for Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin.

His shirts are available through NTVS and, while Rez Detectives can be found locally at Paseo Plunge and The First Americans Museum store, with Marvel’s Voices: Heritage #1 available where comics are sold.

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Frances Danger

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