Lee Francis IV, a member of the Laguna Pueblo, is the owner of Red Planet Books and Comics, the only Native American owned comic shop in the world.
Francis opened Red Planet Books and Comics in June 2017. The store is located near 10th Street and Central Avenue in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“The shop’s first titles were used books by Native authors that came from Francis’ own collection,” Red Planet’s website says. “Now he sells children’s books (quickly bought out whenever the Librarians of Color are in town for a conference) and, of course, comics.”
Francis also founded Indigenous Comic Con in November 2016, which is a gathering that celebrates Indigenous pop culture. The convention was formed to give a platform to Indigenous pop culture groups such as Native actors, cosplayers and artists. This inspired the idea for Red Planet Books and Comics.
“(Red Planet Books and Comics) sprung out of the work we had already done, publishing through Native Realities and our Indigenous Comic Con, that I founded,” Francis said. “I tell the joke that I had a lot of books and I had a lot of banners and I needed some space to host all of that. We figured, instead of getting an office, why don’t we open a bookstore so we can keep the comic con going all year long?”
Francis said this is a place for Indigenous artists and authors to express themselves, whether that be through the store or the Indigenous Comic Con.
“I am surrounded by creativity, illustration and imagination. I am surrounded by Native creatives because that’s what we specialize in,” Francis said. “It’s not just a comic book store; it is the Native comic book store. I can’t think of a better way to go into work everyday — it’s amazing.”
According to Francis, he works directly with Native artists and authors to help display their works if they approach him.
“We highlight Native and Indigenous creative works across the board as much as we can,” Francis said. “We do as much as we can in the limited space that we have.”
Kirk Tom, a local Navajo cosplayer, found an outlet to display his artistry and work through the Indigenous Comic Con. Tom attended almost every Indigenous Comic Con and won the costume contest for the event twice.
“I was bringing something new to the table, being a Mandolorian character but added my traditional, Native designs to it,” Tom said. “As soon as I walked in, everybody freaked out in a way and they were like, ‘You can do that?’ Overall, everyone was excited that somebody actually did something this cool.”
As with most non-essential businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted both the Indigenous Comic Con and Red Planet Books and Comics. According to Francis, the store stayed open virtually.
“First and foremost, we shut the shop down. It was difficult — we saw it coming and started to make motions that this was going to happen. Then we really just started pivoting to online, to shipping and to distribution,” Francis said. “That was what kept us moving — we just did more outreach, we did more online sales. We had a really great winter and a really great holiday season. That’s how we kept it going through the whole time.”
Francis hopes to continue supporting Native artists and encourages people to do the same.
Hannah John is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @yesitshannahj