Cree superhero hits comic book stores
When Canadian comics artist and writer Jeff Lemire was commissioned by DC Comics to create a new gang of superheroes, one was inspired after he learned about Attawapiskat’s Shannen Koostachin.
He also decided to set much of the storyline along the James Bay coast. A southern Ontario boy with limited experience with First Nations, Lemire ventured up to Moosonee and Moose Factory to spend time with local youth and learn about the culture.
“I wanted to create this character as part of the comic, but I wanted to make it as representative of the area and culture as I could, so I needed to spend time there obviously,” Lemire said. “Most of the time was spent in the schools both in Moosonee and Moose Factory, both elementary and high schools.”
There, Lemire conducted workshops with the students about creating a comic, and he also learned from the students and gained ideas from them for a Cree superhero.
Last month, DC Comics unveiled the Justice League of Canada. Among the new slew of superheroes was Equinox, a 16-year-old Cree teenager from Moose Factory.
Lemire spoke to Wawatay News about developing Equinox, her superpowers, and what he learned about First Nations people along the way.
The first issue of the series hit comic book stores on April 23.
Wawatay (WWT): So I understand the character of Equinox was based on Shannen Koostachin?
Jeff Lemire (JL): It’s a little bit confusing. The character is not so much based on her than as inspired by her. So it’s not like the character looks like her or her life resembles Shannen’s life. But I was inspired by Shannen’s story to create a character who was a teenage girl and who was a Cree character because I found that story so powerful and compelling. I wouldn’t want to glaze everything Shannen did in her life by turning her into a superhero comic book (character), especially since I didn’t know her or her family. But yes, it’s definitely an inspiring story and another reason why I wanted to learn about the James Bay coast and the area and working with the kids.
WWT: Prior to being inspired by the James Bay coast and Shannen, how would you describe your experience or knowledge with First Nations people in Canada?
JL: I’ll be honest, I grew up in southern Ontario. I live as south as you get in a town right near Windsor. And down there, there’s no real large First Nations community at all, so it wasn’t something I was exposed to growing up. All the media we got was all from the U.S. In a way I almost grew up in the annex of the United States. I didn’t really have a great awareness of what was going in Canada until I moved to Toronto when I was in my 20s, and I started to travel a bit more and get a better sense of how big the country is and how diverse it is.
So doing a project like this really was my way of hopefully learning more about Aboriginal culture and First Nations. I feel like, White Canada, often in pop culture we only hear about hardships First Nations face, and negative stories in the media. But the more I got to know more about the Cree culture specifically in the James Bay coast, and the people living there, the more I realized there’s beauty to that culture as well and a lot of positive stuff that we can share and I wanted to create this character that would exemplify the positive things.
WWT: The character herself, Equinox, what are her superpowers?
JL: It was tricky. I talked to the kids a lot trying to get idea for how to create a superhero who would not be a cliche of First Nations culture but also still have a connection to it. What I heard a lot was to have a connection to nature. So her powers are basically: they change with the seasons. In the winter, she can control ice and snow. In the spring, her powers are more healing and growing. And so on. No matter where she goes on the adventures with the superheroes, her powers are more connected to the seasons. So she always brings a bit of the land with her.
For her secret origin or background, I kinda based it on the Seven Grandfather Teachings, which was something the kids taught me about. From a writing point of view, it was a perfect basis to build a superhero around. Those traits are so admirable and exemplify a lot of positive things.
WWT: Does she have a weakness? Like Superman had Kryptonite?
JL: Yeah you know, I haven’t really thought of one yet (laughs). I might have to as I get further into the story, but there’s nothing specific like Kryptonite that I’ve come up with. But that’s actually a really good question. I haven’t thought too much about it.
WWT: So what kind of adventures can we expect from Equinox?
JL: It gets pretty crazy. Writing these comics you gotta keep coming up with these ideas to keep the readers entertained.
from page 8
The first adventure, when Equinox is introduced to the rest of the superheroes, takes place by the old NATO radar base in Moosonee that’s abandoned now. There’s a secret alien headquarters underneath that they discover. They end up splitting up their time between Moosonee and outer space going back and forth. And Equinox who’s never left her home before, is exploring the cosmos and the world and is exposed to all this other stuff so she kind of ends up being the reader’s point of view.
WWT: Since she’s from Moose Factory, can readers expect some scenes in the town?
JL: Absolutely. The first storyline all takes place there. She goes to high school at DDECS (Delores D. Echum Composite School), and the high school itself is drawn in there and there’s actually local landmarks in the comic book.
WWT: There’s a photo circulating online. It’s a comparison of Shannen Koostachin as she’s dancing, and the other photo is Equinox, and the main thing you notice is the colours. Was that intentional?
JL: Yea it was. I saw a documentary about Shannen’s story and I remember her parents saying her colours were blue and white, and so I thought it would be a way of honouring her without totally basing the story on her, but still having some pieces of inspiration.
WWT: Based on your experiences of researching for this character and going up to Moosonee and Moose Factory, how you describe how this changed your perception of First Nations people?
JL: It’s sort of still in the process as an artist. When you’re working on something, you’re not fully understanding when you’re doing until a year later when you look back. So I think I’m still in the process of learning a lot. But with the connection to the land, and just getting to see that part of the country was pretty cool having grown up in the south. But also, just kind of realizing how similar - I grew up in a really really small town on a farm and it was pretty isolated like Moosonee and Moose Factory. I kind of felt a kinship there. And the Seven Grandfather teachings and spending time with the kids, it opened my eyes to the positive outlook the Cree communities have in sprite of the hardships. I found that to be inspiration.
WWT: And how many issues or storylines will Equinox be a part of? Or will it be an ongoing thing?
JL: The hope is for it to be ongoing. So you never know - obviously there’s business things to take of, like to see how sales go and what the reaction is, but if all goes well, she’ll be a character that lives on indefinitely. Even after I’m done writing the book, whenever that is, hopefully some other writers pick up on her and learn more about her and do cool stories with her. So the potential is there to keep it ongoing.
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