Comics

‘Monstress,’ or How Not to Lose Yourself in Revenge

Image via 'Monstress'/Tumblr.

Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s new fantasy comic series Monstress approaches the topics of oppression and survival through one such richly imagined fantasy world. Inspired in part by Liu’s grandparents, survivors of the Japanese invasion of China during World War II, Monstress is a story about the difficulty of overcoming the pain of systemic oppression without losing yourself in rage, pain, and revenge

This New Superhero Comic Stars the Superhero's Single Working Mom

Image via YouTube/Raising Dion

However, even among multi-tasking, family-oriented comic book stars, Nicole, the star of the new independently published series Raising Dion, is unique. A widowed, black single mother, Nicole has no superpowers of her own. Her son, Dion, is the one with emerging superhuman abilities.

The comic, created and written by Dennis Liu, aims to show readers what it’s like to raise someone who may become the next great superhero...or the most terrifying supervillain the world has ever seen.

The first issue of Liu’s new comic (available as a free download from the author’s website) introduces readers to Nicole and Dion, and tells the story of how Nicole met her husband Mark, Dion’s father. One night, on a camping trip, Mark witnesses a strange phenomenon in the sky, and is struck by a powerful flash of light. Whatever side effects Mark picks up from his experience, he passes on to his son when Dion is conceived.

Comics & Faith with Gene Luen Yang

In the September-October 2013 issue of Sojourners magazine, senior associate editor Julie Polter interviewed award-winning comic book author and artist Gene Luen Yang about his new two-volume graphic novel, Boxers & Saints.

Set during China’s Boxer Rebellion of 1900, Yang’s comics illustrate the complexities of faith and fanaticism through the stories of two young people caught in the violent uprising against Westerners—foreign officials, merchants, and missionaries—as well as Chinese Christian converts. Boxers tells the story of Bao, a boy who becomes a Boxer leader (among the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists) after witnessing ongoing abuse by Westerners; Saints follows Four-Girl, an unwanted daughter who converts to Catholicism, takes the name Vibiana, and must flee the Boxers.

Yang, a Chinese American residing in Oakland, Calif., dedicates Saints to the San Jose Chinese Catholic community. Boxers & Saints releases in September from First Second Books.

Unpublished excerpts of Sojournersinterview with Yang can be found below, along with illustrations from Boxers & Saints.

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Sojourners: The characters in Boxers & Saints are driven by varied combinations of ideology (patriotism, cultural imperialism) and mysticism/faith. The flaws and virtues of different beliefs sometimes seem to mirror each other.

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Misery Loves Comedy

Nadia Bolz-Weber

DURING MY EARLY years of sobriety, I spent most Monday nights in a smoke-filled parish hall with some friends who were also sober alcoholics, drinking bad coffee. Pictures of the Virgin Mary looked down on us, as prayer and despair and cigarette smoke and hope rose to the ceiling. We were a cranky bunch whose lives were in various states of repair. There was Candace, a suburban housewife who was high on heroin for her debutante ball; Stan the depressive poet, self-deprecating and soulful; and Bob the retired lawyer who had been sober since before Jesus was born, but for some reason still looked a little bit homeless.

We talked about God and anger, resentment and forgiveness—all punctuated with profanity. We weren’t a ship of fools so much as a rowboat of idiots. A little rowing team, paddling furiously, sometimes for each other, sometimes for ourselves; and when one of us jumped ship, we’d all have to paddle harder.

In 1992, when I started hanging out with the “rowing team,” as I began to call them, I was working at a downtown club as a standup comic. I was broken and trying to become fixed and only a few months sober. I couldn’t afford therapy, so being paid to be caustic and cynical on stage seemed the next best thing. Plus, I’m funny when I’m miserable.

This isn’t exactly uncommon. If you were to gather all the world’s comics and then remove all the alcoholics, cocaine addicts, and manic depressives you’d have left ... well ... Carrot Top, basically. There’s something about courting the darkness that makes some people see the truth in raw, twisted ways, as though they were shining a black light on life to illuminate the absurdity of it all. Comics tell a truth you can see only from the underside of the psyche. ...

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QUIRK: PhD Comics Explains "The God Particle"

If you’re like me you probably haven’t been following the latest scientific discussions about Higgs Boson (a.k.a. “the God particle"). But today I came across a 7-minute video in which Daniel Whiteson, a physicist at the prestigious European research organization CERN, walks through what the particle means, what it is, how it can be found (if it can be found at all).

But the best part about the whole discussion is that it is animated! The folks at PhD comics “a grad student comic strip,” break down the entire talk with clever visuals and an engaging presentation style.

Telling the Old, Old Story

I remember vividly the first time I went to a comic book shop with my mom. I'd sneaked there before. But this time was different. This time I’d come without pretense, openly confessing my love of the four-color art form. I was in the fifth grade.

While I perused the back issue bins in the middle of the shop, my mother looked from one rack to the next, her face slowly solidifying into a grimace. On one cover, a half-naked green man punched a half-naked rock man in the head. On another, a woman wearing spandex tight enough to be body paint draped herself over some sort of futuristic motorcycle. Eventually, my mother’s eyes fell upon the cover of a sword-and-sorcery title near the cash register. Behind a tan, sinewy barbarian stood a harem of women, all wearing thin strips of well-placed linen. We left before I could make a purchase.

On the way out, she grabbed my hand and crossed herself. Surely, a good Catholic woman had to protect her son from such drivel. I sighed, knowing I would have to go back to my sneaking ways.

She didn’t know it at the time, but my mother had just played out in microcosm the long, antagonistic relationship between Christianity and comics. Since its inception in 1933, the modern comic book has drawn the ire of preachers, priests, and parents. Committees and associations have been formed on both sides of the struggle.

This animosity is curious, especially since Christianity and comic books have a lot in common. Christianity was established by a small band of poor Jewish men who loved stories. Almost 2,000 years ago, Peter, James, John, and their peers in the neighborhoods of Galilee gathered around a wonder-worker who taught by telling stories. From this community grew the largest religion on earth.

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Nothing Comic About It

In the Battle Pope comic book series, a slovenly, muscle-bound version of the Catholic leader bumbles from one superheroic adventure to another—with a hippie Jesus as sidekick. The only time a serious question of religion arises is when it offers a convenient punch line.

While people of faith certainly enjoy their share of juvenile humor, they’ve often had to look hard to find more-substantive treatments of spirituality and real-world issues in comics. But the last few decades have seen a maturation of the genre, as comic books and graphic novels—which are essentially book-length comics—address serious issues in thoughtful, creative ways. Think of Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer-winning Maus, which documents his father’s experience in the Holocaust, and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, a graphic memoir of her child-hood during the Iranian revolution.

The industry has snowballed in the past five years, and now rakes in big readers and big bucks—last year, graphic novel sales in the U.S. and Canada reached $395 million. Combine this with revenue generated from movie adaptations of graphic novels such as Watchmen and Wanted and you have an industry that feels larger than life.

Mark Siegel, editorial director of First Second Books, which publishes graphic novels, said his plan when creating the imprint in 2006 was to include graphic novels about race, politics, and social justice “for the world citizen,” which coincided with creators’ increasing desire “to tackle big things in new ways.”

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Sojourners Magazine November 2009
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Holy Warrior Nuns, Batman!

Before Neil Gaiman became a New York Times best-

Before Neil Gaiman became a New York Times best-selling author, he wrote a comic book series called The Sandman. In the course of its 75 issues, which he began in the late 1980s, Gaiman explored issues of depth psychology, the relevance of ancient mythology, the sources of Shakespeare's inspiration, the subtleties of Oriental calligraphy, and the relationship between dreams and death. At its heart, The Sandman series explored the diminishment of faith in the modern world and the need for a reconnection with enchantment in our everyday lives.

Clearly not the "Biff! Bam! Pow!" comics of an earlier generation.

A new type of comic book has emerged. It's often visually edgy and sensitive to a niche market, and it's reaching new audiences. With this new brand of comic book displayed alongside titles of the large comic publishers in more than 4,000 comic shops nationwide, an aging fan base can find ideas and themes explored in more mature and visually sophisticated ways. Comics now explore issues important to adult readers - in some cases with more violence and sexuality. At the same time, many are more thoughtful and subtle in their storytelling than the traditional comic book. This genre has become so popular that even the publishers of such staples as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the X-Men, and Spiderman have created comic lines that mirror this new style. It is in this context that comics have found an audience with which to explore issues of myth, religion, faith, and spirituality.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2004
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