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Comics/Graphic Novels

Fighting Giants: Grief and Comics

Sonja Palmer

Staff Writer

Sonja resides in Asheville, NC where she has a job she loves at a children’s nonprofit.  When she’s not working, she probably has a book or comic in hand as she tries to read her way out of the ever-growing stack in her small apartment.  On weekends, she’s probably clambering through the mountains with her husband and dog or trying to eat too much cake while watching Great British Bake Off.

2011 was a shitty year for me. One day my in-laws announced their divorce, and the next morning my father died…and that was only February. My husband and I spent the rest of the year reeling as more and more people disappeared from our lives, as family members struggled with substance abuse and disease, and we fell further beneath the poverty line.

Not great Bob.

When I think of grief, I think of 2011. I think of feeling overwhelmed and lonely and how those emotions built up until I was furious at everything because at least being mad is better than being helpless.

In I Kill Giants writer Joe Kelley and artist/designer J.M. Ken Nimura illustrate that feeling perfectly. The book captures so much of that anger, both in the way that the main character, Barbara, behaves and how Nimura draws.

Written by Joe Kelly/Art and Design by JM Ken Nimura

Barbara goes out of her way to push other people away. She is acerbic and often cruel because she’s furious and she doesn’t know how to handle it. The comic grows more shadowed as she grows closer to dealing with the truth she really doesn’t want to see-the letters grow larger as a voice calls her name and she hides under the table and decides it is easier to fight everyone than face the truth.

I Kill Giants 2

Written by Joe Kelly/Art and Design by JM Ken Nimura

I immediately recognized my own anger in this book-the feeling of just wanting things to suck a little less so you make up your own demons to fight, or you simply turn on the people who are trying to help. It is so, so easy to dwell in that place. It is really hard to move on to any other emotion. It can be hard to walk up the stairs and face what comes next, and it is especially hard to make connections with other people-to trust them-when what you want to do is isolate yourself. In the midst of her anger, Barbara doesn’t fully reach out to Sophia, a girl who tries to befriend her, because she’s really scared.

Oh do I know that feeling.

Joe Kelly and art by J.M. Ken Nimura

Joe Kelly and art by J.M. Ken Nimura

Captain Marvel #15 flies in opposition to those feelings. It makes me cry every time I read it. It’s about Carol Danvers grieving the loss of her mentor, Tracy. Kelly Sue and David Lopez pack so much emotion into just a few pages, but what is even more amazing to me is how she lands the feeling of not being able to get up again and still somehow ends on hope without it ever feeling cheesy or forced. The thing I love about this issue is that it realistically deals with grief, but it also talks about how you don’t have to get stuck in it, and how you don’t have to move on all at once. You just have to pick the next right thing. In those pages, with the sun shining down and with Carol standing among the people she loves, I was reminded that there was another way out of grief than through anger-which is the path I took and one that I don’t recommend to others, unless you happen to be the next Marvel super villain. It is really hard to pull yourself out of that frustration and fury. It is easy, as Tracy says, to never get up.

written by Kelly Sue Deconnick, art by David Lopez, and colors by Lee Loughridge

written by Kelly Sue Deconnick, art by David Lopez, and colors by Lee Loughridge


It’s easy to dwell and fight giants in your head. I know I didn’t believe that there could be a next right thing for a while. I had stopped writing. For a while I stopped talking to people. I curled up in a ball and couldn’t plan for a future I wanted because I didn’t know what that would look like anymore without these people I loved in my life. Its taken much longer than I would have hoped to slowly crawl out of the hole and look around and start thinking about what comes next. I’m still figuring it out, to be honest, but it is brighter than it’s been in a long time. Only took five years. Some would say I’m not the fastest learner.

In I Kill Giants, when Barbara finally has to face what’s happening, she realizes she can deal with it, especially with the help of the people around her she’d been trying to push away. She’s stronger than she thinks she is. It’s a hard lesson to learn and a place I still struggle sometimes, but I’m getting better. One of the only ways I escaped was learning to take the hands that were offered to me-only when I could trust someone else, even a little, did I realize I wasn’t on my own and I could make it.

I was stronger than I thought I was too.

And for you, you who are in your own 2011 (or worse), I hope you don’t have to draw your own demons and fight until you’re tired. Someday, hopefully soon, you’ll be able to reach out for the hand of someone around you and you’ll make it to the next right thing-even if takes you five years or longer.  Until then, my friends, you definitely won’t be alone.