Life-long comic book enthusiast Jake Omstead lit up when he saw a course listing this spring for Representing Religion in Comics.
“This is the way all college courses should be,” the creative writing major said, “where our professors give us guidance but grant us all the freedom we need to use every bit of our creativity to make something great.”
During an April 2015 showcase, the 14 students in Brackett’s class invited family members and the Ball State community to view their final comics, which are being compiled into an e-book for publication later this year.
The course, a seminar through the Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry, examined how religious figures—from Jesus to the Buddha to pagan gods—are represented in comics and graphic novels, a medium that's surged in popularity in recent years.
The students then applied what they learned and created their own comics, which had to incorporate some kind of religious theme. In Omstead’s case, he created the comic book “Parabola,” which tells the story of a teenager who falls through the floor of an old house and finds the devil in the basement.
The seminar’s concept impressed not only the 14 participating students, but also a writer for one of the largest comic book publishers in the country.
“I wasn’t doing anything like this at your age,” Amy Chu, a writer for DC Comics told the class during a February visit. “And so I'm impressed by everything you're creating. A lot of what I read from new artists is like 'Spiderman' all over again. But what I see here from you guys is interesting, original content.”
The course led many of the students to take deep looks into their own views and beliefs.
“Much of what they came up with centered on personal stories that allowed them to come to grips with their own religious identity,” said Jeff Brackett, the religious studies professor who taught the seminar.
One of the biggest challenges the students faced was overcoming an obstacle shared by many.
“This is the way all college courses should be, where our professors give us guidance but grant us all the freedom we need to use every bit of our creativity to make something great.”
— Jake Omstead,
creative writing major
“Most of them weren't artists,” Brackett explained, “and so I stressed the imagery of what they were doing wasn't nearly as important as the story. Stick figures can tell a powerful story if they're paired with something well written.”
Over the course of the semester, Brackett coordinated with community partner Aw Yeah Comics, a Muncie-based comic shop, to bring in visiting artists to mentor the students.
Tyrece Love, ’15, experienced many of those challenges—and developed a new respect for the medium because of it. He created "Battleground: The MC," a 22-page comic that follows a hip-hop artist entering a rap battle while struggling with his faith in God.
“Coming up with the story, laying out the panels, inking it—all of the work was harder than I anticipated,” said the religious studies major from Indianapolis. “The pros make it look easy.”
At an April 22 showcase, the students debuted their final products, which are being compiled into a downloadable e-book later this year.
“It's been cool to see how everyone's art skills improved, how hard people worked to pick up skills like using Photoshop," said biology major Tiffanie Ford-Baxter, ’15, whose comic, “A Bite Out of Life,” explored one man's decision to take on a job as Gluttony, one of the seven deadly sins.