First Peoples Fund Fellow Uses Comic Books As Tool To Teach Lakota Language To Others

One of the most exciting projects Gilbert Kills Pretty Enemy III (Standing Rock Sioux) has going right now lives in his house.

"I'm teaching my boys art and my oldest son is getting in to it and following in my footsteps," said Kills Pretty Enemy, a Native artist from McLaughlin, South Dakota, and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Kills Pretty Enemy is one of this year's First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership Fellows, and has been creating art since he can remember. "When I was a little kid, my mom used to buy me art books and my dad was an architect and an artist," he said.

His love of drawing eventually blossomed into a desire to attend school to study art. He graduated in 2001 from the United Tribes Technical College with an associate's degree in art marketing. He returned in 2005 to earn a second associate's degree in small business management.

His work, now under the name "Chameleon Horse Art and Design," includes drawing, graphic art, silk screening, tattooing, tribal art, wood burning and painting. His fellowship from First Peoples Fund is helping him do several things, he said.

The first is purchasing silk screening screens and a pressure washer. The second will be to purchase a matte cutter, matte board and shrink-wrap machine for sales of prints, cards and postcards. "It will help make it easier for customers to get the work home," he said.

The third area includes airbrush art. Currently, Kills Pretty Enemy works with a small amount of airbrush supplies, making it a challenge to expand that part of his business. The final piece will be ordering Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator programs, tattoo materials and blending markers for a comic book he is working on.

Comic books have been a bridge among generations for Kills Pretty Enemy and his sons, ages 14 and 17. It continues to be an inspiration for his artwork.

"I was raised in the 1980s and comics and video games were the styles—the media was clean and perfect," he said. "It's like my dad being an architect, everything was measured right on."

Kills Pretty Enemy's comic books, "Akicita" and "Iktomi," will be the culmination of his graphics work. "Iktomi" will be a Lakota language tool for the Lakota people. Kills Pretty Enemy said he plans to use the books as a marketing tool.

"These two books will show the world what I can do as well as helping other Lakota artists reach for their dreams of working in the comic book industry," he said.

While the comic style of his youth came easily, incorporating his Native culture in his art took some studying, Kills Pretty Enemy said. "I didn't start out doing strictly Native art," he added. "But as I got older, for horse paintings and beaded design, I'd go to the library and read a lot."

His sons, who are also currently working on a comic book, are also on the hunt for information. His oldest plans on studying art at the same tribal college he graduated from several years ago. Kills Pretty Enemy's long-term goal is to be able to focus more time on his art.

Connecting with First Peoples Fund, and receiving their support is a major step toward that, he said. "It's really a great feeling to be part of these people," he said.

He recently traveled to a First Peoples Fund artist training in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

"I got to see everybody in action," he said, "and I thought, 'I'm in the right place.' When I got back, I got a second wind and got energized."

Follow Kills Pretty Enemy's business, Chameleon Horse Art and Design, on Facebook here: