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Like a Prayer
On this special episode of the podcast, Derek moderates a roundtable discussion on religion and comics. Joining him on the panel are Elizabeth Coody (teaching at the Iliff School of Theology), Jeff Brackett (Ball State University), and A. David Lewis (Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences), all of whom are comics scholars focusing on representations of religious belief and faith. They begin their discussion by sharing their backgrounds in comics and how they have found the medium a useful means to approaching religious studies. In addition to describing the specifics of their scholarship, the panelists also discuss the various strategies they’ve employed when using comics in the classroom, along with the challenges that come when using comics to teach issues of faith. The subjects that come up during the discussion range from superheroes and myths, manifestations of the afterlife, adaptations of religious texts, biographies of religious leaders, expressions of heaven and hell, the crossroads of faith and ethnicity, and parodic (even heretical) representations of religious figures, doctrines, and practices.
At times on the panel the discussants clash or come at books from different angles — for example, Jeff and David disagree on the usefulness of Craig Thompson’s Habibi and Derek pushes back on the “religiousness” of such comics as Maus, A Contract with God, and Persepolis — but the talk is always lively and insightful. Among the many texts they reference are Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, Mike Carey’s Lucifer, Justin Green’s Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary, Robert Crumb’s The Book of Genesis Illustrated, Sean Murphy’s Punk Rock Jesus, Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come, Mark Millar’s American Jesus, and Craig Thompson’s Blankets. They even discuss comics as religious propaganda, such as what you’ll find in the Spire comics published by Archie during the 1970s and the ever-present Chick tracts. The panelists covered a lot of ground, but there was so much more that was left unspoken…enough to warrant a future follow-up roundtable on the same topic.