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Here’s a test. What images come to mind when you hear the words “comic book”? Exaggerated muscles and colorful spandex? If so, you’d be right . . . to an extent. But if you think of dynamic storytelling coupled with avant-garde pop art, you’d be spot on. Are you scratching your head wondering when the guy with bat ears and a cape became profound? Take heart; you’re in good company. But the simple fact is that it’s true.

The comics industry has been around for decades, and with each generation they’ve had to adapt. As the original audiences have matured, so have the contents of their books. Consequently the comic audience is no longer around 7 to 13 years old, but 17 to 31. They’re your doctors, professors, architects, and even theologians, not some isolated weirdoes vegetating in their parents’ basements. And while some of this audience may be enamored with the idea of golden age heroes in blue tights, many are searching for more.

This demand for fresh material gave birth to the modern comic and graphic novel. These works act as avenues for artists and writers exploring visual storytelling in bold and unique ways, for any audience and on any subject they please. Whether they offer superheroes, film noir, sci-fi, or the simple realities of life, comics faithfully deliver everything great about the human experience and imagination. Christians engaging culture should at least acknowledge this growing medium.

With graphic novelists being praised by the likes of The Washington Post and industry illustrators appearing in galleries from Tokyo to Los Angeles, comic books have earned a pedestal in the intellectual worlds of art and literature. It’s time to take a second look. n

Where to Begin? Try These Titles:

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
by Frank Miller

Possibly the pinnacle of graphic novella published under a popular title, Dark Knight is found on the required book lists of some college course curriculums. Miller’s masterpiece is a cult classic. (DC Comics)

The Sandman: Endless Nights
by Neil Gaiman

In 1991, this collection won the illustrious World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction. The next day the rules were changed so comics would no longer be eligible. The first American comic book on the New York Times Bestseller List, Endless Nights is a must. One installment centers on a character representing Desire; the sexual nature may make it unsuitable for some readers. (Vertigo)

Uncle Sam
by Steve Darnall and Alex Ross

Uncle Sam is a work that stands as testament to the true power of the comic book. With powerful art by painter Alex Ross and an uncompromising moral message, readers are humbled by the atrocities of a country’s unreconciled past and inspired by the possibilities of its future. (DC Comics)

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