For many, comic books are a form of escapism from the tumultuous real world. When I worked in a comic store, I heard complaints from the occasional older male customer who believed that comic creators needed “to keep politics out of their stories.” This always confused me, because heroes have always fought the injustices they see in the world. Superman stands for truth, justice, and the American way, while Captain America represents patriotism. Ms. Marvel is a young Muslim woman from New Jersey and there’s a Chinese-American Hulk defending the world.
Now, when the real world needs heroes to turn to under the uncertainty and outright danger of the new Trump administration, comic book writers and artists are using their powers for good and to make an impact for those in need. Writers have been helping to recirculate the phone numbers of congressional representatives while artists have been taking charity commissions, with the proceeds going to organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood. Through acts of resistance and awareness, these writers and artists have been spreading hope, raising civic engagement, and embodying the values of bravery and kindness that many comic books express, not just through superhero stories.
I spoke with Christina “Steenz” Stewart, social media and community manager at Lion Forge Comics, about a recent zine distribution project she created called Take Comfort Take Care. “We distributed them at a peaceful demonstration that I organized,” she explained of the zines, which were easy to make and easy to hand out. They consisted of one sheet of printer paper and were pocket-sized for ease of carrying, with imagery and words of advice on each of the folded pages.
“We ended up giving away about 300 zines and it took almost no effort,” Stewart said. “We also read from them as an act of solidarity. We’re always asked to be strong; don’t cry, buck up and resist! But you can also take time to do nothing. It’s okay not to feel okay. That’s kind of the slogan for the Take Comfort Take Care zine.”
Stewart managed to create this project while completing artwork for her comic book “Archival Quality” with Ivy Noelle Weir, which will be out in 2018 from publisher Oni Press.
Independent cartoonist and creator of “The Rascals,” her personal web series project, Tess Fowler has begun a collection of “Resistance” art pieces, which she has given permission to protestors and other organizations to print and use for peaceful demonstrations and for raising awareness at protests. For many comic creators, fair distribution and compensation for their art is what keeps their careers viable, but she believes the best use for this particular art is to freely inspire and support others’ activism and awareness.
These pieces are available through Fowler’s Twitter and Deviantart accounts, and she plans to regularly update them for as long as this resistance to hate and bigotry is needed.
Others use their art to spread awareness through humor and highlighting absurdities in the staggering presidential administration. Mike Norton, creator of the Eisner-winning digital comic “Battlepug,” has begun a series of cartoon strips called “Lil Donnie” which poke fun at such baffling and frightening recent occurrences such as the naming of “alternative facts” and Kellyanne Conway’s bizarre statements to the press over fictional events.
To those who have said politics need to stay out of comics, I say that comic books provide us not an escape from responsibility, but a new world in which we can see how to grapple with real problems. Artists and writers lead the charge in teaching us through their books and show us how to be better people and heroes in our own reality. We have examples of heroism in their stories, and now we have examples of activism and political awareness in real life.
It is important to see that creativity doesn’t have to diminish when life gets hard — it just takes a new form and reminds us to take comfort, take care, be aware, and resist becoming apathetic when there are people in need of help. That’s heroism more real than any caped crusader in a comic book.