Obscure Comic of the Month takes a detailed look at a little known entry from my personal comic book collection. Some will be from major publishers, others self published projects, Original Graphic Novels, issues and Manga. What they'll all have in common though, is that I've rarely, if ever, seen anybody talk about them.
Indeh: A Story of the Apache Wars by Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth – Grand Centeral Publishing 2016
The year is 1872, the place is the Apache nation, a region torn apart by decades of war. Goyahkla, a young brave, has lost his family and everything he loves. After having a vision, he approaches the Apache leader Cochise to lead an attack against the Mexican village of Azripe. It is this wild display of courage that transforms the young brave Goyahkla into the Native American hero Geronimo. But the Apache Wars rage on. As they battle their enemies, lose loved ones, and desperately cling to their land and culture, they utter “Indeh,” or “ the dead.” When it appears that lasting peace has been reached, it seems like the war is over. Or is it?
Contains Mild Spoilers about actual historical events
It a strange world we live in where a comic written by The Actor Ethen Hawke qualifies as obscure, but I'd honestly never heard about the project until I spotted it on sale in a book shop at Newark airport. None of the major comic book news sites that I frequent seem to have followed it, and even mainstream media appear to have given it little more than lip service.
In his afterword, Hawke reveals that the project started life as a film proposal he offered to multiple studios, but none were interested in a story that didn't have a significantly white point of view. Eventually the project was re-worked as a comic with Greg Ruth handling the art, and here we are.
Indeh really is an impressive piece of work. Ruth's artwork is just so evocative that you really get a feel for the place and a sense of who these people were. As far as the writing goes, Hawke doesn’t pull any punches on either side of the fence. The story details every horrible thing that the Apaches went through during the eighteen hundreds, but doesn't shy away from the brutality committed on their side either.
Normally I roll my eyes at such 'both sides' kind of rhetoric, but Hawke does make it pretty clear that the Apaches were considerably justified in their actions. You can only push a people so far until they eventually break.
For a comic of this length it's interesting that I have to say there could have been more in it. Hawke really steam-rolls through a lot of events over the course of the book, and at many points it benefits from having experience with the subject matter. Having already read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (Which I highly recommend you also do) I felt I had better foreknowledge than somebody that would be going into the book cold.
At such a roller-coaster pace, Hawke doesn't really give us much time to slow down and get a handle on the characters. We have plenty of sequences where Cochise and Geronimo and Oliver Howard talk about their goals, their desires and the stakes involved, but very few human moments. I was excited to see Native American icon Lozen show up, but she's given very little time in the plot.
It's a good job Ruth's aforementioned artwork picks up a lot of the slack in this regard, silently communicating a real humanity behind the events to the reader. I can't really say enough about how the book really is a joint effort on both Hawke and Ruth's part, which makes sense, since Ruth originally rejected the project on the grounds that he didn't want to just story board a film Hawke had written. It wasn't until Hawke went away and re-wrote the story for the page that Ruth agreed to come on board.
Ultimately the story is less about people and more about A People. For anyone with even partial knowledge on Native American history you already know where this story is going. But to Hawke's credit, for a story essentially titled 'the dead' it ends on a more hopeful note. Though defeated, the Apache survive, they do endure and their stories exist to be re-told to this day.
It's debatable as to how qualified Hawke is to tell such a story like this, though Douglas Miles, in his foreword, does give credit to the research Hawke undertook for the project. Either way the overall package is a wonderful piece of work. Hawke's writing and Ruth's art are a great fit for such a story, and for somebody like me who already has an interest in Native American history and folklore, the comic was a real treat.
All in all, if Indeh is the kind of thing you'd dig then it's well worth spending your money on, and in a world where movie executives will pass on a project because there wasn't enough white dudes in it then I'll happily accept this as the next best thing.
though, fuck you Hollywood)
Jack Harvey 2016. Indeh (c) Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth, published by Grand Central Publishing. Images used under fair use.