Protect the Past for the Future: Comic Launch and Artist Interview with Kayla Shaggy
Kayla Shaggy is a Diné and Anishinaabe multimedia artist, who, in her own words, “really loves making comics.” Kayla’s resume is impressive. She illustrated for Unsolved Mysteries on Netflix. She also did cultural consultation for Navajo characters for INTERIOR/NIGHT, an award-winning video game studio. Because of her skill, background, and belonging to Indigenous communities, the Save History team selected Kayla to illustrate our first comic, Protect the Past for the Future.
The comic tells the story of two Indigenous cousins, who spray paint a petroglyph site and share the vandalism on social media. Their grandmother sees the damage and demands that her grandchildren pick her up. The three of them drive to the vandalized site, where the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer is waiting for them to help clean off the paint. The story ends fifty years in the future. One of the teenagers is an Elder, telling a story to the younger generation at the vandalism-free site.
For the launch of the comic, we interviewed Kayla to learn more about her and her connection to the Save History mission of ending looting and vandalism of archaeological sites.
Kayla’s Art Journey
Kayla was born in Shiprock but grew up near Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle, one of the four sacred mountains for the Navajo Nation. She has drawn her whole life, but it wasn’t until high school that Kayla considered a career as a professional artist. “I had an art teacher, Dale Latta, when I used to go to school in New Mexico,” she says. “He always encouraged me. He took me to different art museums and that’s when I started to consider that I wanted to be a professional artist.”
To continue her art journey, Kayla attended Fort Lewis College in southwestern Colorado. There, she received her bachelor’s degree in art and also studied abroad in Japan for a year. “I really love Japanese comics,” she says. “They’re just so versatile and there’s lots of different genres and the style is so unconventional and stylized. That appealed to me a lot.” In addition to comics, Kayla enjoys creating linework and black and white art. She is currently exploring color and digital art. In 2016, she self–published a zine, Monstrous Zine, that was successful. Since then, she has self-published other zines, opened an online store to sell her art, and also does freelance art and cultural consulting.
Archaeology and Site Preservation
Kayla has been connected to archaeology since she was young. Growing up in northern New Mexico, significant archaeological sites such as Chaco Canyon, Aztec Ruins, and Salmon Ruins were nearby. She continued to learn about archaeological topics such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act through her anthropology and Indigenous Studies courses in college. Regarding the preservation of cultural sites, she says, “It ties back to not just my identity as an Indigenous person, but also as an artist and knowing the importance of cultivating and keeping that art, those cultural sites.”
As a high school student, Kayla recalls seeing vandalism of a petroglyph panel firsthand: “We went to Moab, where Newspaper Rock is located. It’s a petroglyph, and I remember being so shocked that it was next to a major road. There were all these really beautiful petroglyphs, but there was also blatant graffiti. It just made me so sad knowing that there’s no respect for these sites.” She also remembers the news about more recent vandalism in which “white power” was etched into a petroglyph panel in Utah. “That made me so angry and upset to think that people don’t realize the incredible importance of these sites,” she says.
Illustrating Protect the Past for the Future
About her decision to apply to our Call for Artists, Kayla shares, “I was looking at the flier and I was like, this is cool because the jobs in which I get to combine both being Native and liking comics are rare, so I really wanted to join this project.”
To create the comic, Kayla first illustrated thumbnail sketches based on the storyline.
Next, she incorporated the team’s feedback and refined the thumbnail sketches.
Then, Kayla illustrated the comic with ink, and later, added color.
Drawing inspiration from her life, Kayla drew what she knew. The setting, for example, is in the four corners region, where she has lived the majority of her life. To draw the petroglyph panel, she viewed images from Crow Canyon Archaeological District. She states, “For the first page of the comic, I wanted to showcase the beauty of the rock panel before we go into the story. That way, people can see it and hopefully learn more about it and the history of the surrounding area.”
For the characters, Kayla looked to her own family. “My father’s mom and my mother’s grandmother were Navajo women with gray, kind of curly hair. I remember they were strict, but they were also really kind at the same time. I was incorporating how they physically looked and how they dressed as the design for the grandmother.”
Besides people, Kayla also drew the things she saw growing up on the Navajo Nation, including rez cars. “My dad has a truck like that,” she shares, referring to the pickup truck in the comic. “My grandpa has a truck like that. I know multiple people within my family have the old Chevy trucks. I gave it the bright red color because I didn’t want to use too many browns and blues and whites, so the red was a nice way to draw attention to the vehicle. Those vehicles tend to be really rusty anyway.”
Protecting the Past for the Future
The goal of the comic is to raise awareness about the impacts archaeological vandalism has on cultural sites and the people affiliated with them. Protecting these sites from damage ensures that future generations can visit and learn from these places. “It was a really wonderful project to work on,” Kayla says. “I got to learn more and I hope people enjoy the comic, learn from it, and also help protect heritage sites in the future.”
To connect with Kayla and support her work, visit her website.
For a downloadable PDF of the comic, use this link: Protect the Past for the Future PDF.