Christopher Columbus is the target in a new comic book, and Hollywood wants in on it

“Earthdivers” writer Stephen Graham Jones at New York Comic Con on Oct. 7, 2022.
Mike Calia | CNBC

NEW YORK – Even in fourth grade, Stephen Graham Jones thought the heroic story of Christopher Columbus was a crock.

“You mean the guy who stole all our land and killed our people and turned us into slaves?” said Jones, author of The New York Times-bestselling supernatural thriller “The Only Good Indians” and a member of the Blackfeet Native American tribe. “That’s a hero?”

About 40 years later, Jones has channeled that youthful confusion and anger about Columbus into a new comic book series called “Earthdivers,” which is about a bloody quest back in time to 1492. The first issue, released last week, has already gone into a second printing due to strong demand, publisher IDW said Sunday. The next issue is due in early November, and a television series is in development at a Disney unit.

The premise: It’s 2112, Earth is an environmental ruin, the super rich have fled the planet, and a group of Native Americans discovers a cave in the desert through which they can time travel. They send an emissary to the past with the goal of killing the man they see as the root of their problems – Columbus.

“I’m not smart enough to invent a time travel machine, but I can invent narrative,” said Jones, who lives in Boulder, Colorado, where he teaches college courses on creative writing, film and, yes, comic books.

Despite the provocative material and publishing date – days before Indigenous People’s Day in the United States, which is still celebrated by many as Columbus Day – Jones said he hasn’t gotten any pushback on “Earthdivers,” not even from would-be Silvio Dante types. (A 2002 episode of “The Sopranos” depicted members of the Italian crime family fighting Native Americans who are protesting Columbus Day.)

“I’ve only gotten support and people agreeing that if we could, we should go back and take Columbus out,” Jones said in an interview Friday at New York Comic Con.

But it’s not so simple in “Earthdivers.” Like in other time travel sagas, such as Ray Bradbury’s short story “A Sound of Thunder,” which features big game hunters altering the future by messing with prehistoric life, and Stephen King’s doorstop novel “11/22/63,” in which the protagonist tries to prevent JFK’s assassination, the mission in the comic is easier planned than done. The main character, Tad, makes bloody life-or-death decisions while he sets sail for the New World with the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. By the end of the first issue, Tad fears he is becoming a monster.

“It’s easy to say representation matters. But it’s different to understand it.”
Stephen Graham Jones

Jones himself isn’t sure he’d go through the portal to hunt down Columbus. “I’d be worried I’d bring the flu back and wipe out the 15th century,” he said.

Hollywood wants in on “Earthdivers,” too. According to Jones, he received several offers before Disney

Jones said it could wind up on streaming service Hulu, which has become a hot spot of sorts for stories about Indigenous people in the Americas, including FX’s coming-of-age dramedy “Reservation Dogs” and “Predator” prequel “Prey.” He’s a big fan of both, and he’s encouraged to see more Indigenous people in media.

“It’s easy to say representation matters,” Jones said. “But it’s different to understand it.”

He offered some examples.

“When I was a kid coming up, looking at the television screen, I never saw my own face. So I had to co-opt people into my tribe. I stole Rambo because he had a headband. I stole Conan the Barbarian because he’s from the great north, and so are the Blackfeet. I stole John McClane because he’s a guerilla fighter in ‘Die Hard.’ I had to do that,” Jones said.

“What thrills me is that kids coming up nowadays, they don’t have to abduct people into their tribe. They see their tribe, they see their face on the screen,” he added. “I think that makes you feel like part of the world in a completely wonderful way.”