HUFFPOST PERSONAL

The Artist Bringing Native American Representation to Comic Books

Jeffrey Veregge can’t remember a time when he wasn’t into comic books. Growing up on the Port Gamble S’klallam Indian Reservation in Little Boston, Washington, Jeffrey would pore through the pages of Spider-Man, Batman and his all-time favorite, X-Men. In comic books, Veregge found both an escape from the torment of high school and a place where his imagination could run wild.

Being a teen wasn’t easy, and being a nerd at that era was even harder,” says Veregge. “So [comics] provided a sense of comfort and a place to get away from everything.”

Although he found common cause with comic book characters like Peter Parker and the X-Men ― outsiders who stood up for what they believed in ― Veregge was also rattled by the portrayal of Native people in the comic books that he loved.

They were shown as “dim-witted savages out to get the hero,” he says, and in the rare instances when Native characters were depicted as heroes, comic artists still reduced them to stereotypes by cloaking them in threadbare ethnic regalia.

“Batman doesn’t wear whatever clan or family he’s from,” says Veregge. “He’s just Batman.”

While Veregge’s love for comic books followed him into adulthood, he put aside any dreams he had of pursuing a career as a comic book artist after finding work as a designer at a creative agency.

But after seeking treatment for depression and anxiety, which he long struggled with, Veregge began to reconsider his career path.

As Veregge explains, “I said, you know what? I need to start making art for me. I don’t care if it sells, I don’t care if it does great. I just know that I want to make it.”

Veregge turned to the art of his youth, combining Salish formline art ― a Native art form commonly found in the Pacfic Northwest ― with the comic book heroes he grew up with.

“On the reservation, [Salish formline art] was the only art we had,” says Veregge. “You’d see it, and they’re powerful and they’re bold. And they’re strong. The shapes themselves, the totems, the carvings, they’re all very strong.”

Much to Veregge’s surprise, his imaginative Native take on classic comic-book heroes like Batman and Spider-Man began making waves.

It wasn’t long before Marvel got wind of Veregge’s work. When the comic book behemoth began talks to revive Red Wolf, Marvel’s first Native comic-book character, they turned to Veregge.

Not only was Veregge asked to contribute cover art for one of the issues, but Marvel also hired him as a consultant on the project in order to ensure that Native characters and issues were being portrayed accurately.

As Veregge explains, “Marvel wanted to make sure that when they were telling a Native story, it was honoring and letting go of old stereotypes.”

Marvel wanted to make sure that when they were telling a Native story, it was honoring and letting go of old stereotypes. Jeffrey Veregge

Today, Veregge’s work continues to gain acclaim. His art is currently on exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum in New York City, and he has a number of comic book projects in the works.

But what’s most important to Veregge is that he’s making art that’s true to himself.

“I’m doing the same thing that my ancestors did,” Veregge says. “I’m just telling the stories that I care about, that I love and that are relevant to me.”

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