November 2021: Theo Tso

It has been a very busy Fall and I would like to share some program updates with you!

On September 20, the Governor and I hosted an inaugural in-person art exhibition of ‘The First Lady Presents…’ here at the Mansion in Carson City.  This 6-month display honors the artwork of those we featured from February through July.  The reception included a pop-up curatorial presentation of Nevada State Museum artifacts juxtaposed to the actual artwork, as seen here in our virtual programming.  It was a real delight to convene safely and share an evening appreciating art and history in-person.

Since our relaunch in February 2021, our arts education initiative has been shared across press and media interests that reflects art, tourism, business, and education. The contemporary Nevada artists who we sought to lift up and amplify has received media attention far and wide.  We are proud that our curatorial lens of equity is reflected through press coverage by Spanish and Chinese media and we intend to continue efforts toward outreach and inclusion in all Nevadan communities.  In our growing public awareness, I thank PBS Reno who will air an episode of ‘The First Lady Presents…’ on its popular show ARTEFFECTS on Sunday, November 21 at 6:30pm on PBS Reno channel 5.1.  The episode will be posted on their website the next day- please be sure to tune in and join in our support for the arts.

Reflecting our dedication towards cultural awareness and diversity, it is my pleasure to introduce Theo Tso in honor of Native American Heritage Month. Theo’s comic book creation, Captain Paiute- Indigenous Defender of the Southwest, is a powerful, contemporary reminder of our indigenous community in Nevada and a thoughtful comparison to this month’s Curator’s Corner featuring the headdress of ‘last of the Washoe Indian Chiefs’, Captain Pete.

Together as Nevadans, let us study the past, honor the present, and envision the future.
This month, it is my pleasure to present… Theo Tso!

Theo Tso

Theo Tso in his studio

Photo: Rebecca Snetselaar. Courtesy of the Nevada Arts Council’s Folklife Archives

“You won’t see a Superman or a Batman or any other superhero come onto the reservation and help with the problems that we Natives deal with on a daily basis. So, I created a hero that would -one that knows about traditional culture and how sacred it is to us. Captain Paiute is a steward of Mother Earth, a cultural and environmental protector. He is the Defender of the Southwest.”

Theo Tso was born on the Las Vegas Paiute Indian Colony, a small downtown parcel of land that was deeded to his people in 1911 by ranch owner Helen J. Stewart. His passion for comics began at a young age when he stumbled upon a milkcrate full of comics in an old shed in his father’s backyard. His father had brought them back home from his service during the Vietnam War and many of the comics were very old. This experience would foster Theo’s interest in drawing, discovery, and story-telling.

Theo attended Rancho High School and one day, in his art class paging through a comic, he observed there were no Indigenous superheroes to be found in any of the stories and certainly none with their own title. Theo went home and applied his passion for drawing to this new realization.  This moment in his youth, combined with his own upbringing of stories told to him by tribal elders, shaped and created Captain Paiute: Defender of the Southwest.

Over the years Tso has met fellow indigenous comic book artists who have collaborated with his vision to create an Indigenous superhero who serves reservations in the Southwest; a superhero that all Native kids can call their own. Such partnerships have yielded publishing brands such as Narrative Collective, Native Realities, and finally Tso’s own publication label, War Paint Studios.

Tso is a former two-term council member of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribal Council and is currently featured in the Find Your Folklife: We Are ‘the Folk’ All of Us exhibition on display at the Nevada State Museum in Las Vegas which is curated by Rebecca Snetselaar, Folklife Specialist at the Nevada Arts Council.


Mark: Is Captain Paiute a hero? What defines him as a hero to you?

Theo: Captain Paiute protects the Vegas Valley Paiute Nation and all other reservations across the Southwest. I wanted to create something that Native kids can relate to when reading my stories, so yes, he is a hero. Captain Paiute is the champion that we as Indigenous people need. He is the protector of tradition and culture; he is a protector of our sovereign rights against those who want to take that away from us. He is also a water protector and for those of us that live in the desert; we know how precious water is.

Mark:  Water is the greatest resource in the desert; it provides life to all. With the control of water, is Captain Paiute god-like?

Theo: I never saw him as god-like, he’s just a Native who was given a special honor to protect all Indigenous people across the southwest.

Captain Paiute is I guess what you call an elemental hero. When I created him, I thought of the one thing that we need in order to survive and that is water. My ancestors would travel where the water was available and would set up camp. This gave me an idea of how he can use that element as his ability to advantage while fighting the bad guys. His muscles can act as a form of hydraulics and it allows him to basically bulk up so that he can lift an incredible amount of weight. This ability also allows him to leap very high into the air, free running. He has the ability to control the ambient temperature around his body allowing him to create fog or mist that he can use as an offensive or defensive maneuver. When he is finished using his powers, he can return the unused water back to the earth. Instead of using or taking from Mother Earth, he returns his gifts.

Mark: Most comic book personalities have a dual identity, does he?  Does he have any personal struggles with his own identity as other comic heroes do?

Theo: His alter ego Luther Pah is the Vegas Valley Tribal Hydrologist and he is in charge of making sure that the groundwater is safe and abundant for his people. He also offers his hydrology knowledge to other tribes across the Southwest. Luther’s parents are killed in a car accident while driving back home from the hospital with Luther in his car seat in the back. Luther is then rescued by a woman who turns out to be Pah the Water Protector (a fictitious character) and is given his powers by her since he was chosen from a dream that the Old One, the wise turtle (another fictitious character) had while hibernating. The Old One dreamt that the Paiute people are in danger and that someone must be chosen to protect them from the evils that he saw in his dream. His struggles are with his dual identity and coming to grips with deciding what is right and what is wrong.  He is not a judge, jury, or executioner; his only purpose is to make his people, and family, proud.

For more information on Theo Tso, please visit his Facebook account or his Instagram account.

Captain Paiute: Indigenous Defender of the Southwest
Issue 0, 2015
Publisher: War Paint Studios
Photo Courtesy: Artist

Captain Paiute: Indigenous Defender of the Southwest
Publisher: War Paint Studios
Photo Courtesy: Artist

Captain Paiute: Indigenous Defender of the Southwest
Publisher: War Paint Studios
Photo Courtesy: Aritist

Captain Paiute: Indigenous Defender of the Southwest mechandise
Photo Courtesy: Mindwinder Studios

Mark Steel Wool Salinas is a public art consultant based in Reno, Nevada.  Mark provides public art consulting, creative content, and program management both locally and nationally.  He serves as a board member for the City of Reno Arts & Culture Commission, the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts, the Nevada Arts Council, and Americans for the Arts Public Art Network. Along with First Lady Kathy Sisolak and the Nevada State Museum, he established ‘The First Lady presents…’ and serves as art curator.  FB / IG @MarkSteelWoolSalinas