Eva Mirabal wasn’t just the first female Native American cartoonist—she was one of the first Native American cartoonists period, and one of the first female creators to have her own strip. Born Eah-Ha-Wa (“Fast Growing Corn” in the Tiwa language), Mirabal grew up surrounded by art: her father served as an artists’ model, she spent years studying art at the Santa Fe Indian school under director Dorothy Dunn, who recognized her “ability to translate everyday events into scenes of warmth and seminaturalistic beauty” right off the bat, and at nineteen was featured as part of a gallery exhibition in Chicago. World War II brought her work to a wider audience when, after enlisting in the Woman’s Army Corps in 1943, she was commissioned to create a strip for the Corps newsletter. G.I. Gertie gave canny, irreverent voice to women in the military, and Mirabal was quickly commissioned for more work, most notably her posters advertising war bonds. After the war, she served as an Artist-in-Residence at Southern Illinois University, painted murals for schools, planetariums, and military facilities, and eventually returned to the Taos Pueblo. Her later works, signed not as Eva Mirabal but as Eah-Ha-Wah, depict everyday Pueblo life with uncommon passion and candor.
Today, Eva Mirabal is far from celebrated. You’re really only going to find the same G.I.Gertie strip over and over again if you search online, many of her murals have been demolished, and her tumblr tag is empty. But her work—intimate, warm, and keenly felt—stands strong, decades after her death. The comics and art world stand in sore need of women like Mirabal: G.I. Gertie was not the work of a male cartoonist, cracking jokes about those silly women and their silly woman concerns, nor are her paintings the product of a white observer, smearing his bias across a community he “discovered.” Mirabal was a woman writing for women, a member of the Taos Pueblo creating for the Taos Pueblo—an artist committed to her world and its validity.
(Third in a series on women in the comics industry.)