Navajo artist shares his culture through comic book series 'The Heroes'
Keith Jim planning release of second edition of 'The Heroes' soon
FARMINGTON — Moab, Utah, cartoonist Keith Jim reveres the Navajo creation story that was a staple of his routine as a child. His grandfather repeated the tale to him on a near-nightly basis when he was growing up in Rock Point, Arizona, and by the time Jim had reached adulthood, he knew he wanted to do his part to bring the story to a wider audience.
That dream reached fruition in late October when Jim released "The Heroes," the first installment in a multipart series of graphic novels that focuses on the exploits of twin brothers Monster Slayer and Born for Water — two characters from Navajo lore in the time before the arrival of colonial invaders.
Jim collaborated on the project with New Jersey-based writer Michael Fromm, and the two plan on relating the full story of the twins across perhaps as many as 10 issues — a task that could take up to two years, Jim said.
His work on the book began four or five years ago, Jim said, but the project didn't really take off until he became acquainted with Fromm through a Facebook group that connects artists and writers. Despite his strong affection for the subject matter and its sacred nature within his culture, Jim was willing to share his idea with Fromm, and the two quickly decided to work together.
"I was comfortable with him," Jim said during a telephone interview last week from Moab, dismissing the notion that he might have been hesitant to involve someone from outside his culture in such an important subject. "I really liked his stuff after he sent me some samples. Mostly, I wanted to get this story out there to let non-Native people see it. I wanted get this out there and let them see what our culture holds."
"The Heroes" is a do-it-yourself project that lacks substantial financial backing, but that hasn't stopped it from generating a regional buzz. Jim said he's sold more than 250 copies of the book across the region, with the Tales of Tomorrow comic book shop in Farmington recently ordering more copies after selling out. The book also is available in stores in Albuquerque; Durango, Colorado; and Moab, and Jim said a shop in Santa Fe plans to begin carrying it soon.
It's not an easy process collaborating with someone more than half a continent away, Jim said, but technology makes that a much easier prospect than it used to be. Fromm and Jim speak on the phone on a near-daily basis, and they're already hard at work on the second installment of "The Heroes," which is due out in late January or early February.
Jim is so pleased with how well his work with Fromm has taken shape, in fact, that he said they already are planning other projects to focus on when "The Heroes" is finished, including one that was Fromm's idea.
In the meantime, Jim is doing everything he can to make "The Heroes" a success, including making personal appearances to promote the project. One such event was the book's official launch at Tales of Tomorrow on Oct. 27. Jim recalled his delight at strolling into the store and seeing something he had created nestled among the legendary titles he had grown up reading.
"It was a really, really good feeling," he said. "I was speechless for about a minute and really nervous. Every feeling meshed through me in 30 seconds. What's nice now is that I'm starting to get noticed, and people ask me to sign the book. It's really awesome. It shows that dreams do come true if you work at it."
Jim followed his appearance in Farmington with one at Indigenous ComicCon Nov. 2-4 at the Isleta Resort and Casino in Albuquerque, and his next stop will be another such event in Denver this winter. He also said plans call for him to return to Farmington when the second edition of "The Heroes" is ready.
Jim is soft spoken and chooses his words carefully, but he said he enjoys promoting the book through public appearances and looks forward to doing more of that. He even participated in a storytelling event at a school in Farmington that caused him to reflect on how important the traditional Navajo stories he grew up hearing were to his identity when he was a youngster. He hopes to leave a new generation of children — Native and non-Native alike — with that same feeling through his work.
"It helped me out when I was growing up," he said of those stories that gave him a sense of belonging. "Whenever I was alone, I could think back on it and play it in my head like a movie."
Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.