By Mark Allard-Will
A graphic novel about an Indigenous late-disco era rock band, co-written by a French super fan, sounds like a suggestion generated by Mad Libs; but it's the backstory for Redbone: The True Story of a Native American Rock Band.
Christian Staebler, a photographer from France, has been a fan of Redbone for almost 40-years. Redbone, a band whose shared background is their Indigenous heritage, were shot in to the pop culture zeitgeist stratosphere in 1974 with their hit "Come and Get Your Love"; a song which saw its gold record-certified fame resurrected into the upper echelons of super stardom when it featured in the opening sequence of 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy.
I caught up with Christian to bring you the lowdown on what drove him to write this graphic novel.
MARK: I understand that you're a superfan of Redbone, how many years have you been a fan of the band now?
CHRISTIAN: I’ve been a Redbone fan for 40 years, since my days in Art School in Strasbourg. One of my art teachers, Lucien Leroy, introduced me to Redbone. That was in the late '70s. At that time Redbone wasn’t recording new material. They were still famous in Europe for hits like The Witch Queen of New-Orleans, Maggie, We were All Wounded at Wounded Knee. Strangely their biggest US hit, Come And get Your Love, wasn’t famous in France. Anyway I wanted to learn more about the band and started collecting their records. But that was before the internet and I only found 3 of their vinyls albums. With the start of the Internet in the late 90’s, I started searching again, but Redbone was then a completely forgotten band. It was hard to find information. I just found a dutch small website. I contacted them, especially Sandra van der Maaden, a huge Dutch Redbone fan, and we started to share info. Se had met and interviewed Pat Vegas at the time. As I’m an illustrator and graphic designer myself, I decided to create my own website for the band in 2004. I received all kinds of info from the Dutch fans, Sandra of course but also Ellen Bout and Maurice Heerlink.
M: In writing a graphic novel such as Redbone The True Story of a Native American Rock Band, you presumably need to get intimate access to inner knowledge about the band. How did that process of getting all the background research for the script play out for you?
C: Ellen told me that Pete (Peter DePoe) was living in Holland. So, in 2008 I went there to meet him. It was a great moment, he is an extremely adorable guy, very funny and great story teller. He gave me lots of gigs anecdotes, which I later integrated in the site (you can still read them scattered on the site). Pete asked me later if I wouldn’t be interested in writing a book about Redbone. That was 2010, I think. But I didn’t want to do a book about just rock 'n' roll, how a band lives on tour and so on. The site had grown at that time and Pat Vegas got in touch with me. We did a lot of interviews on phone. He gave me info about the AIM (American Indian Movement), about his childhood and Pete’s childhood. All of this made me reconsider doing a book. I started writing it in 2012. It was a long process as I had to double check the facts, and it wasn’t always easy. I also had to read lots of books, amongst others, the biographies of AIM leaders (Russel Means, Dennis Banks and Clyde Bellecourt). These 3 books were incredible interesting, I recommend reading them. Also books about boarding schools (residential schools) and Native Americans history in general. Of course when I had questions about the band I asked Pat and Pete directly. To have a more natural flow to the book, and more fluid dialogues I asked for help from Sonia Paoloni who writes children books. And as I wasn’t confident enough to draw it myself (and had not the time for that) we completed the team with Thibault Balahy who did all the drawings.
M: And, what other activities - aside from co-writing the graphic novel - have you conducted as a superfan (collecting, creating websites, etc)?
C: As I said in the previous question, I created the Redbone.be website in 2003. It has become a sort of official site for the band. I spent a lot of time from 2003 to 2015 to get enough info to complete their discography, history of the band and of the band members. I also, through the site, receive questions to the band (as you did), which I forward to them, although it’s not often easy to get an answer :-)
M: I understand that you're a French citizen from France, presumably there was a learning curve for you in writing a graphic novel that covers the story of the Indigenous identity of the members of Redbone. What were you most surprised to learn on that journey of writing the script?
C: Well , the most surprising was learning the existence of the boardings schools, where Native American children were taken from their parents. And that Pete had to live this in the '50s. Pat told me that. When I called Pete to ask for details he wasn’t very pleased to talk about it. It was still painful for him. It was also a surprise to learn how important Pat and Lolly were in the LA musical scene before Redbone. These guys should be much more appreciated!
M: And, finally, was this your first journey in to writing for the comic book medium? If so, what was the most surprising thing for you about script writing for comics?
C: Why comics ? I was in an Art School because I wanted to do comics. So, comics is a long story and the passion of my life. I’m also writing and doing interviews about comics. I wrote 2 books about the history of comics worldwide and am writing the third one presently to close the series (1 - from the beginnings to 1960, 2 - from 1960 to 1985, 3 - from the '80s to the current period). I wrote several short stories, but Redbone is the first complete book in comics I finalized. During the previous 30 years I was essentially graphic designer and illustrator for didactic books (DIY, massage, aquarium amongst lots of other subjects). I’m also specialized in illustrations for orientation tables. But comics were always in my mind. And I have a few projects I hope I can work on in the future years. Currently I’m also working on the restoration of a comic book that came out in 1967: Saga de Xam. This should be republished in 2022 in France with an American edition too.
So, there you have it, the story of a super fan's journey to create a graphic novel about the most influential Indigenous rock band of all-time. Redbone: The True Story of a Native American Rock Band is available to order through book shops worldwide, from Amazon or your local comic shop.
Redbone live in two separate, but equatable, states today; one of the memory of their unprecedented superstardom of the mid-1970s as a band of Indigenous heritage and the other as a band of yesteryear. Next issue of the North Sask Music Zine, however, we will take a look at something present and that only appears to be expanding: The global rise of Indigenous Metal. So, stay tuned for March Metal Madness.
Thank you to Christian, for taking the time to talk with me.