Using a graphic format, comic book artist Jim Terry’s memoir Come Home, Indio (Street Noise, Sept.) details his experiences as a miserable, abused, neglected child of alcoholics and his own decade as a blackout drunk, as well as his eventual path to sobriety. Along the way, Terry discovers the discipline of illustrating comics and finds community among the worlds of both his Irish-American father and his mother, a member of the Ho-Chunk tribe in Wisconsin.
Street Noise Books founder and editor Liz Frances, who says her aim is to publish marginalized voices, tracked Terry down at Indigenous Comic Con in 2018 and convinced him to write, as well as draw, his story. She predicts his memoir will attract “readers looking to find meaning and purpose as well as a sense of community and belonging in the modern world.”
PW spoke with Terry—now age 46 and sober for 14 years—about drawing his life, connecting with others, and finding a sense of spirituality.
Why do you connect Indio (Spanish for Indian) with happiness now, after decades of feeling shame and pain about being half-Indian?
Although my father was Irish, he spoke fluent Spanish, and Indio was a term of endearment he used for me when he was happy. The through line in the book is the sense of feeling out of place. By the end of the book, Indio comes home to happiness.
As a child during your parents’ divorce, an attorney battered you with questions, and you depict this incident by shrinking your boyhood image frame by frame until you are just a dot. How do you use this graphic technique to advance your verbal narrative?
In the frame where I’m just a dot, that’s how small I was made to feel in the moment. Why not illustrate it? In the frames where I am in love, all the background vanishes and I’m just floating. You can’t do that in mainstream books. Graphic stories have a way of being surreal, and yet also being very literal. That’s the beauty of sequential artwork. You can do things with it that you can’t do in prose, or film either.
How did your experience with the Dakota Access Pipeline protests near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in 2016 affect you?
I grew up with a very small Native community. But at Standing Rock I was part of many communities coming together. I saw the heroism and the strength and the spirit. Now, I am still discovering what being Native means to me. The biggest takeaway is an idea that all the tribes share: that the generation to come is more important than the one that is here now. We are custodians for our children.
In what way has this involvement impacted you spiritually?
I wouldn’t say I became a Christian or that I identify now with Native ceremonies. I would say the spiritual impact has been like the smoothing of a rock by the water. I had all these edges, and eventually these things were buffed away. I try to separate people’s spirituality from whatever dogmatic ideology they have, to see how they behave rather than what they say they believe. This includes myself.