Comics Challenge Readers’ Perceptions of What Truly Makes a Hero
Show the World as You Want it to Be
One of the best parts about creating a comic book is that you can show the world as you want it to be. You’re not bound by the reality of your business, service, or product. You’re not even bound by the real world.
Thirty years ago, that may have meant ignoring large subsets of the population, as comic books rarely featured characters who were transgendered or disabled. But that started to change in the ’90s with comics embracing diverse characters, especially in the (aptly named) DC imprint Milestone Comics.
A literal milestone in its inclusion of superhero minorities, this imprint incorporated superhero content to educate its audience on socially and culturally aware topics. And while comic books and their characters are always lauded and remembered for their superhuman abilities, it’s this ability to further the sociocultural conversation and teach people about the opportunities available to them in places they may have never looked before that makes them far more powerful than their superhuman characters or worlds.
Embracing the Conversation
When we read comic books, we experience who and what a character is and what the world they live in is like, all of which fosters empathy, understanding, and growth. Consequently, we learn more about our own world because there’s an opportunity to portray things in a compelling way through comics that helps people be more sensitive to certain situations. For example, Taproot — about a necromancing gardener and a ghost who haunts him — is an LGBT love story that allows readers to explore pertinent topics in a fascinating and fun way.
At Lion Forge Comics, we’ve always had a focus on creating real, authentic conversations. Subcultures are a vital part of our society, and, from a content perspective, it’s interesting and important to explore them. And while at times this exploration may make audiences uncomfortable, that discomfort can be a good thing.
For instance, we recently released “Lighter Than My Shadow,” a true story about a woman suffering from an eating disorder. Her parents sent her to therapy where she was abused by the therapist, all of which we included in the project. Though this type of material isn’t typically associated with a traditional comic book, it’s a story of strength and redemption much like Superman, and it’s important to understand and acknowledge.
Our comic Superb, in which the main protagonist, Jonah, has Down Syndrome, is another good example. We didn’t want to represent Jonah through the narrow lens of “what Down Syndrome is” and “what living with it means.” That portrayal would’ve been inauthentic.
Instead, we wanted to embrace and educate readers on the issues faced by people with Down Syndrome and make Jonah a superhero along with those issues — not apart from them. To accomplish this effectively and authentically, as well as make sure that our presuppositions were correct and provide an opportunity to include some references to other information within the comic, we worked with the National Down Syndrome Society.
The Strength of Visual Representation
Ultimately, comics and animation can broaden conversations and alter perceptions in ways that other genres can’t — whether they’re about people, products, or services. In fact, they can build necessary lines of communication that run from the comic-book world to the real world. If an organization is striving to be more diverse or to show how its product or service is appealing to numerous types of people, for instance, then comics, by creating a world that depicts that, can become very aspirational.
Our graphic novel series for the Jennings School District outside St. Louis operates in this way. The series is about a kid who moves in with his uncle after his military mom is deployed. He’s hoping to earn some money to contribute at home by winning a video game tournament. His uncle, however, encourages him to get a “real job.”
With the help of the school counselor, he’s led to a real-life school program called the National Academy Foundation, where kids can receive skills training and internship opportunities that lead to an associate degree or even a certification that allows them to work immediately in the IT or healthcare industries. Instead of chasing a very short-term dream and long odds of winning the tournament, he’s steered toward becoming a video game programmer, an option neither he nor his uncle realized was even possible.
Comic books have the power to both start and continue important conversations. By taking a few, realistic liberties and introducing people to new experiences through storytelling, they’re able to change the entire dialogue and shift cultural expectations on a high level. It’s all about challenging your reader’s perceptions of the world in which they live. Because no matter how idealistic the world is that you create in the comic book itself, there will always be conflict, empathy, and education that touch — and create progress in — our own world.
About the Author
David Steward II formed Lion Forge Comics in 2011. The growing company reflects his love of all aspects of the entertainment industry and hearkens back to his first venture, PhotographyX, a multimedia company that provided photography, filmmaking, animation, and design services. He currently serves as the Vice-Chairman of the Board of the St. Louis PBS public television/media affiliate, the Nine Network.