I have been interested in comic books for quite a while. I still remember walking home from grammar school and stopping by the local market to read through the latest issue of MAD magazine, and to see if the new issues of my favorite comics had hit the stand yet. My brother is a comic book artist, so I have that connection (I can live vicariously through his creative work in the genre as exemplifed in the cover of one his current series in the image that accompanies this post). As I grew older the interest continued and developed as my work in religious studies and popular culture dovetailed with one another. Several books that look academically at the comic book phenomenon now make up part of my Amazon.com wishlist. While some adults in America might be embrassed by an interest in comics that survives adolescence, I am reminded of the immense popularity of this genre in Japan. Since Americans tend to appreciate the contributions of this society when it comes to electronics and automobile technology, perhaps they are on to something in the area of comics, and it is the Americans who are deficient in recognizing a significant area of popular culture. Hollywood has drawn upon the creative aspects of the comic industry for a number of films, so perhaps I am not as out of step as some might think.
I was reminded recently of the intersection between comics, religion, and theology when I receved the program for the 2007 Rocky Mountain/Great Plains regional meeting of the American Academy of Religion. In the Theology and Popular Culture group two seminars are listed. One by Beth Davies-Stofka from Front Range Community College is titled “Revolution through Revelation: Comic Books as Liberation Theology.” She has written some interesting things on similar topics for Library of Babble: On Comic Book Scholarship, Writing and the Industry. She has also contributed to the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture.
The other presenter at AAR is Jeremy Garber of the University of Denver/Iliff School of Theology. His presentation has the intriguing title “Salvation Also to the Geek: A Comic Book Theology.” I hope I can carve out the time and finances to attend the national meeting of AAR in San Diego this year so I can sit in on the Theology and Popular Culture seminars, as well as the other areas of interest, such as Pagan Studies, New Religions, and Mormon Studies.
Some might be tempted to dismiss the premise of this post, that comic books might provide a signficant expression of theology and religion. But I would urge those so inclined to consider that scholars have addressed this very issue, and it might be worthwhile to explore an article on this topic in the form of a book review of The Gospel According to Superheroes: Religion and Popular Culture (New York: Peter Lang Publications, 2005). And it is not only Christian religion and theology that is being expressed and explored through comics. The current newsletter for the Alternative Religions Educational Network includes an article that discusses a Pagan artist who has created a comic book, The Many Moons of Astra, that attempts to contribute to the construction of a Pagan culture.
Perhaps by ignoring or dismissing comics evangelicals are missing out on a significant aspect of popular culture for understanding theology and religion.