Read Harder: Comics About a Religion Other Than Your Own
The Panels 2015 Read Harder Challenge consists of 26 challenge categories spanning the breadth and depth of all things that may be considered comics. We regularly give you reading recommendations from one of the categories.
The marriage of text and image does magical things with all sorts of topics, but when creators tackle religion, we have an opportunity to read some of the most enlightening, affecting stories around. These are some of our favorites.
Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona
While Ms. Marvel isn’t necessarily “about” Islam, Kamala Khan’s faith is an important part of her story. As much as she is inspired by Captain Marvel and the other superheroes she idolizes, her faith is at the center of her ethical core and guides her throughout her journey as a hero. It’s not an accident that her “with great power comes great responsibility”-esque hero mantra is an Ayah from the Quran. (Katie Schenkel)
Thor: God of Thunder by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic
Now, I’m not saying you should use Marvel’s Thor as a study guide for your comparative religions final, but the main character and most of his supporting cast are literally Norse gods. While there are 50+ years of fantastic Thor stories to recommend, a good place for those interested in questions of religion is Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic’s Thor: God of Thunder. In the first arc, the Thors of three time periods—the Dark Ages, the present, and the distant future—face off against Gorr the God Butcher, an alien dedicated to the murder of all gods everywhere after the gods of his own world failed to answer his prayers to save his family from disaster. It’s a fantastic rumination on the nature and role of the divine, made all the better by the absolutely stunning art by Ribic. (Charles Paul Hoffman)
Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang and Lark Pien
While this recommendation has shown up in our posts before (“a culture other than your own”), this category fits better than any other. These two graphic novels examine the Boxer Revolution from the perspective of a Chinese boy who believes whole heartedly in the powers of ancient Chinese gods and a Chinese girl who adopts Christianity. A religion “other than your own” is central to the plot of these books, which beautifully examine the gray area between religious ideologies. (Andi Miller)
Maus by Art Spiegelman
Even though Maus is considered by a lot of people in the graphic novel know as canon, so many people haven’t actually read the two-part allegorical comic. Portraying the Holocaust with the use of mice as Jews and cats as Nazis, Spiegelman imparts so much history and emotional depth into this black-and-white comic. It’s to be expected with the subject matter, but Spiegelman’s story is at its core the story of a son coming to terms with his father’s horrific history and the fate of millions of his Jewish brethren. It is an incredible artistic and narrative triumph of comics creation, that will force you to confront the realities of the Holocaust anew, no matter how much you already know about it. It’s not an easy read, but it’s an essential one. (Rachel Manwill)
The Rabbi’s Cat by Joann Sfar
Set in Algeria in the 1920s, this graphic novel depicts a Jewish community that is most likely unfamiliar to modern Jews. The rabbi, traditional and reverent, is a single parent to a vivacious young adult daughter, who in turn is “mistress” to the eponymous cat. After maliciously devouring a noisy and annoying parrot, the cat develops the power of human speech, which he immediately uses to lie about the circumstances of the parrot’s demise and to question the basic tenets of the rabbi’s faith. In addition to the examination of religious belief, this series also looks carefully at individual perceptions of the world and the intersection of cultures, beginning with the ways the Jewish community is affected by the presence of the underlying Arab culture as well as the colonial French culture. (Monica Friedman)
Superhanallah: An American Muslim Webcomic
Created by an unnamed artist, he or she describes this webcomic as “modern Muslim life in a sarcastic and lighthearted manner.” Some readers are opposed to the comic “on the grounds that its name blasphemes the devotional phrase, ‘subhanallah’ meaning ‘glory to Allah.'” Many others consider the humor spot-on and sing its praises around the internet. (Andi Miller)
Graven Images: Religion in Comic Books and Graphic Novels edited by A. David Lewis and Christine Hoff Kraemer
If you’re more interested in commentary on religion and comics, this might be the book for you. This collection of essays (which would also cross-mojonate with our recommendations for “books about comics”) examines religion and comics in various contexts: as a missionary tool, theological critique, and settings devout, educational, satirical, and more.
Persia Blues by Dara Naraghi and Brent Bowman (Jessica Pryde)
A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories by Will Eisner (Andi Miller)
The Sandman Volume 4: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman, Kelly Jones, and Mike Dringenberg (Andi Miller)
If we’ve missed a religion of interest to you, check out the Comic Book Religion Database. It’s heavy on capes and tights but interesting nonetheless.