Truth is far more complicated than legend. In a new graphic novel, Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth find an honest way to address the Native American story in “INDEH: A Story of the Apache Wars.” Hollywood has a long history of perpetuating the myth of “Cowboys vs. Indians,” of noble white men just doing what needed doing against the fierce and random attacks of primitive savages. In this book, we get an even-handed clear depiction: a steady and calm narrative that builds to a quick-paced chain of events.
Ethan Hawke adds subtlety, shades of meaning, to the sort of story that usually gets overblown and exaggerated. He has the inevitable violence in there but he really digs deep into the causes of conflict: the U.S. military mishandles information in some cases and individuals engage in abuse in other cases. By 1872, hostilities should have been on a steady decline but, due to unfortunate factors, all would come to a head in the Apache wars.
At the center, is the famed steadfast warrior, Geronimo. Alongside him, is the warrior turned reluctant diplomat Cochise. We come to see that the Apache did not enter into bloodshed lightly. But, after not only one’s land is taken, but one’s family is slaughtered, blood will be shed. When literally everything is taken from you, your very existence threatened, what do you do? You fight back!
Quite remarkable that such a book exists. Here you have a compelling story told in the comics medium, which gives it that greater reach and accessibility, and gives it a unique vision. I can only imagine that Ethan Hawke, such a celebrated and talented individual, must have gained so much from his discoveries and creative effort in putting together this script.
It did begin as a screenplay. However, the realities of Hollywood left Hawke with the realization that his idea for a movie could be better served by a graphic novel. When Hawke approached the legendary Greg Ruth about being the artist, Ruth insisted that they were entering a new world, the world of comics, and to make that collaboration work, Hawke would need to rethink the script. And so Hawke did just that!
Enhanced by Greg Ruth’s lively brushstrokes, we see the varied nuances to the conflict. We find that, despite the mounting chaos and violence, there were parties on both sides who were more than willing to listen to reason. And, amid the carnage, betrayal, and despair, there was the defining figure of Geronimo. Skillfully avoiding a heavy hand, both Hawke and Ruth give Geronimo his due. Yes, it did reach a point where he was motivated by revenge but he was also motivated by survival.
If we are to grow and evolve as a people, we need to better understand where we’ve come from. What INDEH does is provide us with a clear picture, one that even today we rarely see. Ultimately, we find here a story of a people abandoning a life full of life and succumbing to a life closer to death. Perhaps future generations would dream. These warriors had to admit they had given way to being “Indeh,” or “the dead.” But what would be the greatest tragedy is if they had died in vain. This book is a tribute to the Apache, and Native Americans in general, and it will definitely enrich the reader.
INDEH is a beautiful 240-page hardcover, fully illustrated, black & white with graytones, published by Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of Hachette Book Group. For more details, go right here.