She Kills Barely Started and It’s Already Awful

A cropped view of a settlement of low-rising buildings under a night sky in the desert. A speech bubble stretches out from one of the building's lit, open doors, saying, 'It's called Los Angeles.'

Content warning: This work contains depictions of violence and suggestions of sexual violence.

A Tongva Native American woman who goes by the name of She Kills lives within the lawless, dangerous territory of Los Angeles, where only mobs and violence rule. She Kills struggles to fend off many evils while having to protect her young daughter in tow, Joaquin Dos. And this protection can come at the cost of her child’s right to independence. “Based on the historical events of the indigenous southwest,” She Kills aims to explore how far a mother will go to preserve her own survival at the possible sacrifice of everything else.

She Kills (Volume 1, Part 1)

Patrick Meighan (artist), Gabo (artist), Adam Gorham (artist), Taylor Espisito (letters), Ashley V. Robinson (editor)
April 8, 2020

A woman with her hair in a bun and a violent expression pulls back a knife and a long line of blood is drawn from it, dropping somewhere off-frame. The title 'SHE KILLS' borders the top of the frame.

From the get-go, She Kills doesn’t hold back its unrelenting violence and discomfort. The titular protagonist attends a public hanging and finishes the job early when she discovers the man unfortunately has no family or legacy to speak of when he passes. She Kills indirectly reveals that she voluntarily buries many of the dead that have come and gone since no one else does and has since grown bitter.

While burying the man, she is confronted by a newspaper reporter who uses a front to try to convince her to grave rob. He notes that the dead man was executed justifiably and committed many heinous acts, such as cutting off the hands of a boy who had tagged along with the reporter. The reporter claims that literally taking away the man’s hands to give to the boy would make a great story for the newspaper. This interaction is interrupted when Joaquin Dos, She Kills’ daughter, practices her knife-throwing in the middle of their conversation.A wide view of a small settlement in a dry, barren environment with sparse trees. A speech bubble stretches from the tiny shape of a person in the distance, saying, 'What a shitty town.'She Kills unfortunately finds herself having to make camp in an incredibly unsavory part of the town where only the most putrid gather. Although she successfully fends off a man trying to solicit sex from her and her young, preteen daughter, She Kills ends up falling asleep in the night while trying to keep watch. As her mother enters a slumber, Joaquin Dos, meanwhile, ends up retrieving the hands from the corpse buried earlier to give to the reporter in spite of her mother’s wishes. Dos tells the reporter that she has her own voice and means of making choices, which will prove to be a challenge to her mother later on.She Kills makes it clear this world is horrible and does not apologize for it. But this lack of nuance and proper development makes it a flawed story without an authentically researched perspective.

Despite its serious themes and potentially sensitive subject matter depicting the Tongva people and other Native American groups, She Kills’ biggest marketing ploy is being penned by Patrick Meighan, a seasoned writer and an executive producer of the animated series, Family Guy.

In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Meighan describes how he initially conceived She Kills as “a love letter” to the history of his hometown in Los Angeles and as “an acknowledgement of the insane amount of blood upon which it was constructed”. After having his first child, he began adding personal sentimentality into the mix, penning a character who was “fierce and strong and complicated.” He asserts the heart of She Kills is its mother-daughter conflict and how the dynamic between its two main protagonists gets challenged within a dangerous world constantly at odds with them.

It seems like She Kills wants to be a power revenge fantasy like Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill or Django Unchained, but simultaneously wants to play things straight with its subject matter.Panel 1: A woman with a harrowed expression says, 'Jesus. This fucking town.' Panel 2: She holds a knife, sitting on the ground, close to a young girl wrapped in blankets lying down behind her. Panel 3: She stabs the knife in the ground in front of her, looking past a campfire. First and foremost, gritty is an understatement when describing She Kills’ artstyle: it is just downright ugly. In the same interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Meighan instructed artist Gabo specifically to make things grislier than he initially conceived things to be. It is one thing for art to lend itself to a world that is indeed ugly, but everything instead just looks outright effortless. Many characters’ faces look similar and bodies constantly go off-model. There is clearly no insight on basic anatomy to properly define the characters’ foundation. It looks more unpolished than intentional. It’s especially jarring against the covers by Adam Gorham, which have more refinery and a sense of deliberation to them. It is always difficult to properly assess artistic direction versus the artist’s independent thoughts, but it is certain that Gabo’s work for She Kills looks different from his contributions for The Life After series under Oni Press.

However, the most glaring and significant problem with She Kills is its intent. I am certainly not one to speak on the early colonial history of Los Angeles in the 19th century, as experienced by a Tongva woman, but can Patrick Meighan? Meighan claims he has invested many years of research into this, but who were the Tongva representatives that assessed She Kills narrative to be accurate? Where are their public voices of approval in the press? Wouldn’t that boost the publicity of Native voices, especially for a topic that many in the mainstream do not know about? Meighan has made it clear that the story’s conception came right out of his sentimentality for Los Angeles, but he has never made it quite clear why he settled on a very specific subject matter seated in the perspective of a Native woman. The violent history of Los Angeles can be intriguing if done right with the right people. The baffling marketing decision that the spotlight on this comic depended on Meighan’s work for Family Guy first makes me dubious.A three panel sequence of a young girl, asleep, bundled in a blanket, ending with one of her eyes opening. All She Kills is telling me so far is that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and that figure is specifically represented by a violent Native woman on its cover. Of course, this is also joined with promised violence against Native women. There is so far nothing empowering about the comic that is panel by panel endlessly just dreadful and exploitative for the sake of shock value. Yes, every character is depicted as awful, but the lack of contrast only panders to age old Western stereotypes of the violent Indian trope. This lack of sensitivity is made more apparent through its lack of research and thought in writing, despite what Meighan claims: the dialogue is flavored by incorrectly sprinkled, random Spanish in English-written dialogue as if to remind you what the setting is. That is not how bilingualism works at all! (Would they even be talking that way in that time period? Or is this another attempt at making bizarre, contemporary assumptions for something that wasn’t properly researched?) I don’t think “She Kills” even follows traditionally correct naming conventions. Later on, I would like to believe the protagonist’s name will be explained, perhaps developed from her notorious history, but it so far sounds cartoonish and objectifying, like a child zealously naming and romanticizing their doll’s personality.

The comic has justifiably already received heat from the Native community for its salacious representations. Meighan has been particularly indirect and ignorant about the resistance to his work, and was initially very pushy to move forward with its subsequent updates. Since this wave of criticism, Part 2 of She Kills’ first volume has been delayed in an effort to open dialogue with the Los Angeles Native community. Meighan has also been open to seeking actual Native perspectives to possibly get involved with creative production moving forward. (Though the official statement put out currently remains unclear if people will be paid for this labor.)

The one positive thing about She Kills is its keen accessibility, launching online totally free for reading with all subsequent parts to be eventually released under that no-pay model. But at the same time, this effort is not all that ingenious when numerous webcomic platforms like Line’s WEBTOON and Tapas have been supporting better work that can also be viewed for free.

Ultimately with what I have seen so far, there is nothing absolutely appealing or promising about She Kills even if it is free. I immediately know this series is not for me, but I honestly cannot say this would be appealing for anyone at all. Although it is commendable that the team has now shifted to make amends for what was already published, who is to say how much will change with the narrative threads already established? How will that be accomplished after driving away the groups of people you wanted to represent? Creators need to better understand the gravitas that comes with developing a work featuring a perspective far distant from their own. Whatever happened to asking for a second opinion first? It is not that hard.

Elvie Mae Parian

Elvie Mae Parian

Elvie somehow finds bliss in purposefully complicating the art of storytelling and undertaking the painful practice of animation. If you see her on Twitter at @lvmaeparian, she is doing neither of those things.