Last weekend I attended Emerald City Comic Con. I'm a comic book geek. I love reading them, owning them, recommending them. It was fun to get to meet some of the artists and writers who have created characters and stories I've read throughout my life: Can comics be... dangerous? Doug TenNappel, Phil & Kaja Foglio, Mike Mignola, and Sergio Aragones, to name a few who were at the con. There was also the flood of people dressed up as their favorite characters: lots of Harlequins and Jokers, Captain Americas, and Ramona Flowers. Some of the more unusual costumes included Synergy from Jem, zombie nurses, and the Unstoppable Higgs.
It's easy to attend these conventions and revel in the costumes, the cool stuff to buy, and getting to meet the creators. This is the sort of place where you can see the influence of comics in how we read and entertain ourselves. It's also a good time to remind ourselves about the power comics can have over their readers. I was reminded of this again during the week when I read Steve Bennett's article on the world's most dangerous comic book, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story.
So why is a 10 cent comic book from the late 1950s so dangerous? Well, when it was published, the comic was used to teach people about Dr. King's non-violent form of protest, as well as the civil rights movement as it happened. More recently the comic has found new life during the Egyptian protest movement. Michael Cavna, of the Washington Post, recently outlined the importance of comics in Egypt's political struggles in his Comic Riffs blog. The article opens with Dalia Ziada, a writer, who first read Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story in 2006. Ziada is an activist who has fought against female genital mutilation and for women's and civil rights. She was inspired by the comic and, with the help of her group, the American Islamic Congress, translated it into Arabic and began distributing it. She worked with potential censors in order to get the comic out to readers and even passed out copies in Tahrir Square during the January protests. The article goes on to look at the power of comics and cartoons, the restrictions they've faced in Egypt, and their role in revolutions.
It's fairly common to see people in the library turn away from comics because they don't think of them as real literature. Perhaps most people consider comics to be a bridge in reading, a transition for reluctant readers from cartoonish panels and goofy dialogue to more realistic and challenging prose novels. However, I think that's taking these stories for granted. They are often more accessible to readers of all ages and abilities. Comics put your brain to work in ways a prose novel does not... you're interpreting the art presented on the page and filling in the space between the panels (see Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics to find out more about the work we do when we read comics). And comics can inspire and teach, as they did for Dalia Ziada and other readers.
If you'd like to read the English version of Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, you can find it here.