Comics: My First Church.

The mess of comics as evangelical anti-LGBT propaganda has reared its fanged, pop-culture swaddled head this week.

I’m mad about this for two reasons.

I say that, before I became an Episcopalian, that theater was my first church. This is not quite true. Theater was my second church.

Comics. Comics were my first church.

I like stories. I think that’s no small part of what we love about church, too–that’s what led me into comics.  I was four, and my dad handed me a Green Arrow comic bought at a deli. I’m not a Green Arrow guy–but I was hooked. Fast-forward ten years to my first part-time job at a comic book store, where I dove deep into the world of comics beyond superheroes, and read the work of Neil Gaiman, took in and outgrew the stories of Alan Moore, and then settled into a deep love for Strangers in Paradise.

A friend recommended this comic to me because I wanted something non-superhero, and this fit the bill. It was the story of three friends in love with each other, with evocative, adventuresome art. I fell in, picking up a new issue every month it was published, right on through to the end of the book ten years later.

I re-read the entire series during my month in the hospital last year, and as with anything we fall in love with as teenagers, our adult lives color our perceptions differently. One of the three main characters, David, is in love with Katchoo, a rough-and-tumble beautiful woman with a past. During a confrontation between the two characters in an early issue, David reveals, casually, that he’s a Christian. And Katchoo, through furrowed brow, snarls at him: “You’re a Christian?” This free-spirited artistic woman, our everybody-loves-her protagonist, spits that word out like it’s the new C-word. It’s an instant source of anger and mistrust. It devalues David in her eyes. He is devious at best, weak at worst. And as a reader, as a teenager, I felt the same. It made me like him less, because of the horrific cultural context of what I perceived, as a kid, as modern Christianity.

And then something funny happened: I won’t spoil it, but David’s arc in the book is one of redemption, one of walking the walk and talking the talk, and of allowing his actions and love to speak for him. His faith is mentioned again later by other characters, but is exhibited by him solely in his behaviors and deeds. Of the three main characters, David is the one I really ended up connecting with–which hurt like Hell in the long run.

Gang, you need to read this book.

I’ll talk more about faith and comics later this week, but it was a nice surprise to find, in something I fell in love with two decades ago, a seed of something really whole and open and positive about the faith I came to love later in life.

Comics can be great. They can teach us amazing things about ourselves, which is one of the high marks of art. Strangers in Paradise is proof of this.

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