ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Thousands of people from around the country enjoyed the New Mexico Comic Expo earlier this month. Now, organizers are facing a bit of backlash for a character they hoped to make the expo’s mascot.
“He’s got the Zia symbol on his chest that represents New Mexico,” says Matthew Trujillo.
Banners with the character were prominently displayed throughout the Albuquerque Convention Center two weeks ago during the New Mexico Comic Expo.
“All in all, everyone really seemed to enjoy the character,” Trujillo says.
The design was a gift from Marvel artist Ale Garza, a Minnesota native. Event organizers took to Facebook asking people for name suggestions and a back story for the character.
“We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of positive feedback towards the hero, but we have gotten a few negative feedbacks in the sense of the Zia symbol,” Trujillo says.
Trujillo says the post turned into a debate about the race of the artist, use of the Zia symbol, and cultural appropriation. He removed the character’s photo from the comic expo’s Facebook page and posted a statement saying they are discussing how to move forward.
“It’s a slippery slope in terms of what we want to look at, in terms of cultural appropriation,” says Lee Francis.
Lee Francis, owner of Red Planet Books and Comics, the only Indigenous comic shop in the world, says he saw the picture and immediately did his research.
“The only thing I know is particularly about the use of the Zia symbol is always a little touch and go. I also know that the artist is native as well,” Francis says.
Francis says he doesn’t believe there was any malicious intent, but understands some of the concerns.
“Some of the things on the character aren’t necessarily Native New Mexican or representative of [the] pueblo, but I know that they represent that New Mexico is a great place for everyone to come together,” Francis says.
Expo organizers are in talks with the Zia Pueblo to get permission to use the Zia symbol. They say they were trying to name the character because they were considering creating a comic around him.