by Abbie Willans
A scientist with godlike powers. An epic rap battle. A god making deals instead of giving out miracles for free. A young woman discovering love in the spirit world. A devout Catholic man becoming a shape-shifting cannibal.
These aren’t upcoming movies or best-selling novels. They’re the products of Ball State students exploring the use of religion in comic books.
Religious Studies professor Jeff Brackett came up with the idea for this immersive learning course more than a year ago. Formally titled ‘Representing Religion in Comics’, it combines creative writing, art, and religious studies.
Brackett said he wanted to encourage students “to take charge of their own education and decide what’s important to them.”
He believes there are common misconceptions that comic classes focus only on superheroes, and that comics are just for children.
“I think that graphic narratives are more challenging to read than straight forward prose,” he said.
The students write, draw, ink, letter, and color their individual graphic novels and will be collected in an e-book at the end of the semester.
Senior Shelby Baker’s comic will be a memoir portraying how her life might have been if her mother had not had a miscarriage.
“Writing the end, I had pain in my chest just thinking about it, because it has to do with my parents dying,” she said.
Sophomore Josh Dudley is creating a comic that focuses on reincarnation and superheroes.
“People automatically judge things that they don’t understand and they condemn them. I just want people to realize that everybody is different and accept that,” he said.
Junior Tyrece Love’s comic is about a rap battle and a struggle with faith.
“I wanted to provide the rap scene so that people can understand that it’s not all negative and there’s some positivity there. It’s just displayed differently than rock or country,” he said.
Despite the fact that art is a main component of comics, only two of the students are actually art majors.
While everyone else is learning how to draw and ink, Alyssa Reese has already been planning on being an animated film director to combine her love of storytelling and drawing. But because of this class, she is considering a career in comics. Her graphic novel involves Native American culture and feminism.
“This course has opened a door that I wasn’t expecting to be opened,” she said.
In addition to their comics, the students are writing research papers on topics of their choosing that incorporate comics and religion.
Most immersive learning courses have a business partner in the community. This course was paired with Aw Yeah Comics.
Not only are the store owners a great source of information on comics but they’ve been working with students to bring professional comic creators to Muncie.
Aw Yeah Comics hosts public comic signings with these professionals and allows students to learn from people who have experienced success in comic publishing.
Among the guests so far are Charles Soule, author of She-Hulk, Death of Wolverine, and Letter 44; Mark Waid, co-owner of Aw Yeah Comics and author of Kingdom Come, Superman: Birthright, Daredevil, and Irredeemable; and most recently, Amy Chu, author of Sensation Comics presents: Wonder Woman.
Chu was impressed when she heard the students’ pitches for their stories.
“It was nice to see such a range of ideas and breadth of creativity,” she said.
She will be at Indianapolis Comic Con this weekend, as will the entire ‘Representing Religion in Comics’ class.
They will be holding a panel Sunday at 1 p.m. in Room 143 to discuss their individual comics, the creative process of comics, and to share their learning experiences.
In addition to being at Comic Con, the students will have several presentations at the Ball State Student Symposium on March 31.
The final showcase for ‘Representing Religion in Comics’ will be held on April 22 at the Kitselman Center, where all of the students’ works will be displayed.