Sunday, January 07, 2018

Black and Native American Women in Westerns: Jessie & Bessie Are Outside

(Jessie and Bessie Are Outside comic: Written by Shawnee Gibbs and Shawnelle Gibbs, Art by Catharine and Sarah Satrun, Edited by Lauren Burke for LNA's "Sisters" Anthology)

When we were kids, there were three things that our grandmother, Jessie, loved watching on television—-which meant absolutely no one was allowed to ‘change the station.’ They were: Matlock, Murder She Wrote and Westerns.

And Westerns were her favorite.

If Granny was watching a ‘John Wayne picture,’ your hopes of getting any glimpses of Saturday morning cartoons were dashed.

It wasn’t until much later in life that we gained our own appreciation for the genre and why our grandmother loved it so much.

Growing up as one of twelve children in the rough-and-tumble state of Texas with her twin sister, Bessie, our grandmother was exposed to open landscapes, people who still rode horseback and carried guns, and lots and lots of badasses.

(The real life Jessie and Bessie circa the 1970s on San Pablo Avenue in Oakland, California)

It was in this spirit, that we wanted to honor the legacy of our grandmother and her fraternal twin sister, who would later pioneer our family to California, and re-imagine the Wild West from a female perspective.

There have been many stories told about the Wild West and though African American and Native women played significant roles as pioneers west of the Mississippi (see the story of Stagecoach Mary), few Westerns feature women of color as their heroines. Our maternal great-grandmother was believed to have Native American ancestry, so it was also our goal to give a nod to our family's indigenous heritage in our tale.

("Grandma Luci," Jessie and Bessie's fiesty fictional blind, gun-toting grandmother)

Writing the character of Jessie and Bessie’s grandmother, Grandma Luci was so much fun. We were inspired by members of The Osage tribe for her style and look.

Though this is a period piece, we wanted the characters of Jessie and Bessie to have a fresh quality and be relatable to contemporary young women. So though the story is set in pre-1940s America, we approached the design of their clothing and hairstyles, so they could almost exist in nearly any era.

(Character design of Jessie by Catharine and Sarah Satrun)

(Character design of Bessie by Catharine and Sarah Satrun)

Researching and creating the guns for the project was also a fun part of the process. Before the dawn of the 20th century, Gunmakers put so much painstaking effort into designing rifles and pistols like the 1816 Flintock Pistol and The Colt Percussion Revolver, that the gun's themselves were a work of art.

(Gun designs for the comic, "Jessie and Bessie are Outside" by Sarah and Catharine Satrun)

We got a chance to tell this story through Graham Cracker Comic’s amazing Ladies Night Comic’s Anthology. This marks our third story with this wonderful organization which supports and empowers women in comics. We were teamed with a PHENOMENAL twin-sister duo Catharine and Sarah Saturn (The Satrun Sisters) who beautifully rendered our comic script.

On this project we had twins sisters writing about twin sisters, drawn by twin sisters. It was a 'twinning' combination.

We also got a chance to team again with our fantastic editor, Lauren Burke, who is a wonderful comic book writer in her own right and co-host of the fabulous Bonnets at Dawn podast.

(A panel of art from the Western comic, "Jessie and Bessie Are Outside" written by Shawnee Gibbs & Shawnelle Gibbs, art by Catharine and Sarah Satrun)

The story “Jessie & Bessie Are Outside” is available now in The Ladies Night Anthology Vol. 5: Sisters. You can find a copy here!

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