Comic Books and Religion in Atlanta (American Academy of Religion conference)


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If you’re in the Atlanta area this weekend….

Religion and Popular Culture Group

Monday 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Location: Marriott Marquis – M103-104
Comic books have long supplied popular culture with a colorful stream of serialized superhero adventure stories. Although originally targeted at adolescent audiences, contemporary comics and their kin command global audiences of fans from all ages, and offer a remarkable range of genres and subject matter. These include works of considerable artistry and narrative sophistication that often directly or indirectly address religious themes. This paper session will survey a range of recent scholarship on the religious content of comics, manga, anime and graphic novels. It will include presentations on the use of manga by new religious movements, the allegorization of religious debates, the use of religious language, emerging subgenres, and religiously-informed social criticism.

A. David Lewis, Boston University

Ever-ending Battle: The Superhero Afterlife Subgenre and the Rupture of Narrative Character

If superheroes form a narrative genre, they likely have their own subgenres, and there is sufficient material to argue for the constitution of a superhero afterlife subgenre—stories of superheroes taking place in Heaven, Hell, Sheol, Purgatory, and other hereafter existences. In reviewing the applicable comics, it appears that the superhero afterlife subgenre allows nearly any depiction of selfhood, thereby allowing for no unified understanding of it. Collectively, no form of selfhood is prohibited in this subgenre; likewise, no form is validated. The sum of all these characterizations results in no consensus concerning representations of selfhood. This is not a weakness of the subgenre or the medium. It is evidence of a larger conflict—a rupture. A chief strength of the comic book medium is its sensitivity for overt representation, as Hillary Chute (PMLA) called it, “its attention to its seams.” These comics visually portray the deceased self as indistinct from the living self. If genre is a space for negotiating selfhood, this consistent incoherence of self more likely reflects a difficulty in the reader, in one’s expectations for selfhood versus character’s embodiment of it.