Over the past couple of posts, I’ve been writing about the Graphic Narrative/Script assignment I did in my “Monsters, Race, and Comics” class this semester. Today, I want to continue that topic by looking at another student crated project. Like the previous project that I wrote about last post, this project floored me. When I initially read it, I saw the influence of Rodney Barnes and Jason Shawn Alexander’s work, specifically Nita Hawes Nightmare Blog, as well as Pornask Pichetshote and Aaron Campbell’s Infidel and other works. However, when the students presented their product to the class, they discussed so much more, relaying all of the allusions contained within the comic, notably songs such as Kendrick Lamar’s “Auntie Diaries” and references to Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Fund. I could do a whole post on all of these that they mentioned; instead, though, I want to take some time a look at some specific moments in the product that really stood out to me when I initially read it.

The students’ product centers on LGBTQ+ rights and the constant barrage of discrimination and violence against individuals, as we’ve see with the rhetoric surrounding the Respect for Marriage Act, mass shootings, and fear mongering on various media platforms. One need only look at recent events at libraries where armed individuals shut down Drag Queen story hours and demand books be removed from the library to community functions across the nation to see this. The students’ project approaches this milieu through the horror genre, presenting LGBTQ+ youth in a local community going missing and connecting a lot of it, as well, with the role of religion, and Christianity in particular, of fueling the rhetoric and violence.

The story centers on two friends, the unnamed protagonist and his friend Gerard. They are, in many ways, like Vee and El in The Low, Low Woods. They are both part of the LGBTQ+ community, but they are not sexually involved with one another. They are friends. After another teen, Riley, goes missing, Gerard and the protagonist talk about what has been going on. As they walk, they talk about their fears following Riley’s abduction. After walking past a building with “fairy” spray painted on the side and caution tape surrounding it, the friends each go to their homes. This sequence jumped out to me when I initially read the comic because of the ways that the students presented the friends’ goodbyes.

In a four panel sequence, we see Gerard and the protagonist go their separate ways. The first panel is a full horizontal panel with the protagonist on the left, looking towards the right, and Gerard on the right, looking back over his shoulder to the left. In the middle of the larger panel, we see an inserted panel where the teens hug one another. What I like about this panel is that it links the friends together through their hug but also through the continuation of the panel across the page. There is not gutter here, even though they are going their separate ways. They each look over their shoulders, back to the other person, and they meet in the middle as Gerard tells the protagonist that he has to get home and get ready for a date. Again, this reminds me of El and Vee, with El supporting Vee in her relationship with Jessica.

The next two panels have a gutter in between them. These panels mirror the first horizontal panel; however, the teens do not look back at one another and each walks off towards home, moving to the edges of the page. Behind each of the teens, as they walk down the sidewalk, we see caution tape, serving as a warning. The gutter separates them, creating a break between them and also hinting at something to come. The protagonist tells Gerard, in the earlier panels, to be careful, and Gerard tells the protagonist not to worry. In the split panel, the protagonist narrates to himself, “He says not to worry. But this community only ‘Loves thy neighbor,’ unless thy neighbor is gay.”

The protagonist’s narration segues into the next scene as he arrives home for dinner. Here, we see the protagonist open the door then a shot of the television where the protagonist’s dad is watching a news broadcast about the abductions. The broadcast switches back to the “regularly scheduled programing,” and we see the title card for Ellen. Immediately, the father turns the television off, saying, “Nope.” This short sequence shows us, before we even see them, that the protagonist’s family disapproves of the LGBTQ+ community. This disapproval and hatred, as we see, stems from other sources, notably the church. Father Anderson joins the family for dinner, and we see his control over the narrative. Instead of examining issues on their own, the protagonist’s parents takes the priest’s words and that of right-wing media, blindly accepting the rhetoric.

After the protagonist receives a text from Gerard, we see this control as Father Anderson stands up and places his hands on the table as we see the protagonist’s mother tell her son, “He is not a good influence on you.” In this panel Father Anderson glares at us. We do not see his eyes through his glasses, and we see what appear to be demonic hands on his shoulders and strings coming down from his fingers. The strings bleed into the next panel, attaching themselves to the parents as if controlling them like marionette dolls. The mother continues, “We don’t agree with his life choices either!” The page ends with a small insert panel showing Father Anderson face, from the nose down, with a smirk across his mouth. This page, in connection with the father turning the television off, drives home the ways that individuals allow institutions to control and manipulate them, falling in line behind rhetoric and believing in fears.

The protagonist recognizes this and yells at his mother, anger in his face, “How can you judge who somebody else loves when others looked at your marriage like it was wrong?” Here, he addresses his parents’ interracial marriage, a marriage that federal government did not protect until 1967 with Loving v. Virginia and one that the Respect for Marriage Act seeks to protect in light of Clarence Thomas’ opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case and current rhetoric.

The creators invert the classic trope of the Gerard and the protagonist being possessed by demons, this leading to their sexuality. They invert this by having the priest controlled by demons, the hands on his shoulder, and showing us, at the end of the narrative, the priest, with a demonic force emanating from his mouth, attacking Gerard in his home. This is where the comic ends, with a cliffhanger setting up possible future installments.

There’s a lot more I could write here, but these are some the things that initially stood out to me when I read the comic, and you can read the entire comic below. What are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on twitter @silaslapham.

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