The Greg Garrett Interview on our love of angels and demons

Entertaining Judgment by Greg Garrett

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

We love our angels and demons!

Pew’s massive study of American religious life shows nearly 7 in 10 Americans believe that angels and demons are active in our world. We’re also certain about cosmic realms from which these creatures emerge. More than 7 in 10 Americans believe in Heaven with our collective belief in Hell lagging a bit behind that.

Now, an intrepid explorer of the connections between popular culture and the spiritual realms invites us to travel with him as Dante did with his guide Virgil 700 years ago into Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso—a classic tale that we know as The Divine Comedy. Our new guide already is familiar to thousands of readers nationwide: Greg Garrett, a noted scholar at Baylor University and author of 20 previous books. He calls his book, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination.

Greg is well equipped to serve as our guide after decades of exploring religious themes in comic books, movies, music and American literature. As we set off with him on this great cosmic journey, he says: “This book really is the culmination of years of research. I hope readers will have fun with it.”

Note that this book is published by Oxford University Press so the standard of research is high and Greg lays out an extensive series of notes at the end of his book if readers dare to dive deeper into some of the strange corners they will discover in this adventure.

We can highly recommend the book both for individual reading, for any teachers or preachers who like to touch upon these issues and especially for small-group discussion in religious or secular settings. You’ll have lots of fun in your small group, bringing in video and audio clips to touch off discussion on the chapters in Greg’s book.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed the author. Here are …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH GREG GARRETT ON
‘ENTERTAINING JUDGMENT’

DAVID: Wow! Talk about a whirlwind tour! The entire cosmos from Heaven to Hell—including visits with angels and demons, comic book super heroes, TV stars, great authors and even strange characters in video games—all in 200 pages!

Greg Garrett author of Entertaining Judgment

Greg Garrett, the 2013 Centennial Professor at Baylor University.

GREG: Well, for many years as a journalist, you’ve been covering the same kinds of connections I’ve been covering—and this book really does bring a lot of things together in one place.

DAVID: How did you cast the net for this book? Every page drops another intriguing character into the mix. How did you amass this cast of characters?

GREG: I had all of my own research over the years, then I asked people to recommend stories about the afterlife—stories of the undead, angels and demons—and I got a ton of recommendations! A lot of my clergy friends had powerful stories they had used in their preaching. My literary and cultural friends told me about a lot of things they were researching. And I also crowdsourced this. I asked people questions like: What’s your favorite angel story? Then, I’ve consumed so much popular culture throughout my lifetime that I had tons of things to draw on—perhaps with the exception of video games but I even played my way through Diablo for this book.

DAVID: Many of our readers love to make these kinds of connections. Our online magazine hosts Ken Chitwood’s FaithGoesPop series and, every week, we’re exploring similar links between faith and popular culture.

In fact, I’m going to do a shout-out to our readers: What’s your favorite angel story? Go into Facebook or Twitter and tell us. Add the hashtag #FaithGoesPop so that we spot it easily.

GREG: If they want to add another hashtag that I’m starting to use for the book, they can mark their ideas #EntertainingJudgment and I’ll take a look, too.

IS ‘LOST’ REALLY PURGATORY?

LOST tv seriesDAVID: Let’s use this interview to showcase some of the very intriguing connections you make in this book. There are far too many to list them all in our conversation, but we can hit some highlights. So, let’s start with that mysterious middle-realm: Purgatory. You point out in the book that the word “Purgatory” never appears in the Bible and the vast majority of American Protestants think of Purgatory as a Catholic belief.

However, Greg, you argue that—in effect—millions of Americans are attracted to the idea of Purgatory through books, songs, movies and TV shows like Lost.

GREG: That’s a good place to start because Purgatory really was the starting point for this book. For a number of years, I had been talking about doing a book with my editor at Oxford, Cynthia Read, and then one day she asked me: “Why is it that most American Protestants think that Purgatory is ridiculous theologically but they believe that people do undergo hardship and transform their lives?”

And I told her: “You’re right. We have an operational belief in Purgatory even if Protestants think it doesn’t make sense theologically.”

That question opened up the whole book for me. One of the most primal stories we share is that people can go through Hell and emerge with a transformed life at the end of it.

DAVID: When I was reading that section of your book, I immediately thought of Dr. Wayne Baker’s research in United America. When you talk about this “operational belief in Purgatory” that rings the bells of several core American values that Dr. Baker has documented.

GREG: A perfect example of this is 12 Years a Slave—it’s a story of Purgatory, which in this case essentially means going through Hell with an expiration date when our hero emerges with a transformed life. In fact, it’s hard to watch some of the things you see in the film, unless you can keep reminding yourself: Hey, it’s only 12 years. He will emerge from this.

Or for a Purgatory comedy, think about Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Over and over again, he is tried and tested with the hope of emerging as a new and improved being.

Purgatory was built into the DNA of Lost. From the very first season, there was this whole debate among fans about whether the island itself was Purgatory. And the creators of Lost said no it wasn’t. But this led to the idea of creating, later in the series, a “sideways” world—a world in which the Lostees never crash landed on the island and are presented with challenges they failed in their first time around. Even Dr. Linus, the show’s biggest villain, gets an opportunity to redo an awful choice he made and get it right.

BATMAN, BURNE-JONES AND STAINED GLASS

DAVID: There are dozens of other movie and TV references in this book from It’s a Wonderful Life to the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movies. But let’s jump to very different forms of media: comic books, paintings and stained glass. You connect all those dots, too!

Batman the dark nightAnd that starts with Batman, who makes appearances throughout your book. The story of the “dark knight” is back on prime-time TV in the hit series Gotham. This new series takes us back to Batman’s boyhood as Bruce Wayne, which starts with this little boy’s absolutely terrifying experience of witnessing the cold-blooded murders of his parents. From that kind of trauma, other characters in Gotham become blood-thirsty criminals, but Bruce Wayne emerges as a heroic figure who wants to use his powers to do good.

While Superman may be America’s oldest super hero, Batman has far more fans keeping his legend alive and his fans continually morph Batman into new forms of this angel-demon figure. I think he’ll be a connection point in your book for lots of readers and, of course, there are a lot lessons that can be drawn from comics. ReadTheSpirit has even established our own comic section called Bullying Is No Laughing Matter. So, I was very pleased to find Batman, in particular, showing up as a recurring character in your new book.

GREG: Batman is one of our most pervasive cultural stories. When I wrote about Batman and Superman back in my book Holy Superheroes, I did not realize that those two archetypal stories would continue to follow me around.

In the story of Batman, we think of Gotham as this Hell on Earth and we can think of Batman as a demon—a fierce creature of the night who, instead of using his powers for evil, chooses to use them for good. So, we’re tracing a character who was born in Hell and chose to rise above it. He casts aside everything he ought to be after those early experiences—and instead chooses to devote his life to doing good or others.

That’s the central element of the Batman story: A person can rise above a tragic setting and prove to be a hero for the ages. The question about Batman is: Demon or angel? And we could say he’s both—a devil who chooses to be an angel.

DAVID: Well, I was also pleasantly surprised to find in your book a lot about Edward Burne-Jones, the famous Pre-Raphaelite painter and designer whose images are still splashed across Christmas cards, church windows and lots of other decorative arts. You point out that Burne-Jones was influential in rescuing the idea of an “angel” from the Italian artists who wanted to turn them into cute little babies with wings. Burne-Jones gave us angels with real super-hero size and shape.

Dark knight in Edward Burne-Jones The Briar WoodIn fact, I was just comparing some of the popular images of Batman—the dark knight overlooking a sleeping city—to Burne Jones’s famous painting The Briar Wood, part of a cycle of paintings that he did in collaboration with his friend William Morris. Basically, a dark enchantment has made nearly everyone fall down in a deep sleep. And in The Briar Wood, which was painted in 1890, we see a very Batman-like dark knight overlooking this sleeping town.

GREG: Burne-Jones is really interesting because he did help to restore some gravity to these narratives about angels. As angel imagery had evolved, it looked as though the basic story was going to run off the rails into sentimentality. Throughout scriptures—whether we’re talking about the Hebrew or Christian testaments or the Muslim holy scriptures—angels are described as imposing, frightening, powerful. But, by the time of Burne-Jones, artists had turned angels into these cutesy little babies with wings. In paintings and stained glass and in other images, Burne-Jones restored the powerful nature of angels.

DAVID: And this is not just a matter of aesthetics or interior design. This transformation of angels into super heroes speaks to the terrible nature of the global challenges we faced in the 20th century and face again today. If our spiritual imagination is going to keep up with the world’s terrors, then we need super heroes, right?

GREG: Flying babies don’t do the job for us when we need a really serious pipeline to the Divine. I think that whenever our culture threatens to turn angels into cute little domesticated figures, then we’ve lost the main story about angels.

DAVID: We could go on and on—but I want to urge readers to actually order your book to continue the adventure. Let me close by asking you to sum up how you hope readers will respond to your book.

GREG: There were two things at the heart of my desire to write this book.

First, I wanted to spotlight how important stories of the afterlife continue to be in our lives. A vast majority of Americans continue to believe in Heaven and Hell and in manifestations of angels and demons. And that’s more than just a casual belief. My colleagues in research at Baylor report that a majority of Americans believe they’ve been helped by a guardian angel. So, the first thing I wanted to say is: These are very important beliefs in our lives today.

Then, second, I wanted readers to think about this: We’re consuming so many of these stories very uncritically. I want to invite people into a thoughtful consideration about this. What do we believe about the afterlife? What do we believe about the way the afterlife shapes our everyday life in pursuing faith and justice?

CARE TO READ MORE GREG GARRETT?

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Author InterviewsGreat With GroupsMovies and TV

Miller Elementary School builds a ‘Fence of Friends’

Teacher Krista Jewett and Principal Aimee Bell at Miller school lead an anti-bullying assembly

USING VISUAL AIDS TO PREVENT BULLYING: At a Miller Elementary School assembly, teacher Krista Jewett (left in gray sweater) and principal Aimee Bell (at right) work with groups of children to discuss the best responses when bullying arises.

Hundreds of children agree:
Bullying Is No Laughing Matter

By DAVID CRUMM, Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

“I was lonely, when I first came to Miller as a teacher. I didn’t know anyone! I was new here. I didn’t have any friends,” music teacher Mary Manier told hundreds of children in two assemblies at Miller Elementary School in Canton, Michigan. Behind her was a huge screen displaying the simple outline of a picket fence. Inside that outline were sketches of smiling people holding hands.

Miller teacher Mary Manier shows how to form a Fence of Friends

‘FENCE OF FRIENDS’ BEFORE & AFTER: In this photo, Miller Elementary music teacher Mary Manier talks about arriving at the school and meeting her first new friend. In the photo below, Mary Manier’s story ends with a long ‘Fence of Friends.’ (Photographs by Becky Hile for www.ReadTheSpirit.com)

“But do you know what happened on my first day? Someone greeted me and that made me feel a lot better,” Mary Manier said, inviting that first friendly teacher to walk to the front of the assembly, stand beside her and link arms to show their friendship. Then, Manier recalled a series of simple, kind actions by other teachers—and invited them to stand side by side. Soon, teachers had formed a long “Fence of Friends.”

Then, Manier turned to the hundreds of children sitting in rows on the gymnasium floor. “You all have people who care about you, too. You all have friends. Who is in your Fence of Friends?”

The school is racially, ethnically and religiously diverse, posing an ongoing cross-cultural challenge to the school staff. This year, the entire school—children, teachers, office staff and even janitors—are helping the children to understand how to build safe relationships at Miller. A school-wide survey of students alerted the staff that some children were anxious about the possibility of bullying. No major incidents have surfaced, but Principal Aimee Bell and her colleagues want to be proactive.

In early October, Bell, Manier and 4th grade teacher Krista Jewett invited me, as the head of ReadTheSpirit Books, to brainstorm ideas for engaging children in the effort. ReadTheSpirit publishes two helpful books: Michigan State University’s The New Bullying (for parents and teachers) and also Bullying Is No Laughing Matter (for adults to use with kids).

Miller teacher Mary Manier completes her Fence of FriendsThe Miller team especially liked the “Fence of Friends” activity, based on the Dennis the Menace comic strip. That activity guide is one of many that we provide in the Bullying Is No Laughing Matter website.

Last week, Miller held two assemblies, separating the students by age. The assembly for older students was longer and involved more talks by teachers, student skits produced by Krista Jewett’s students and brief videos on the big screen. The assembly for younger kids was geared for a shorter attention span. The high point for both groups was Mary Manier—with help from the school’s faculty—demonstrating the Fence of Friends.

“In the next week or so, you’re all going to get a chance to draw your own Fence of Friends,” Aimee Bell told the students.

The staff has duplicated hundreds of fence outlines on 8-by-11 paper, awaiting these student drawings. Teachers know that some students immediately will fill their fences with sketches of friends. Other children will sit quietly with a nearly empty fence. That’s when teachers will encourage students to look at the drawings that are emerging around the classroom—and students will be invited to “draw themselves in” to those fences that are still quite empty. In doing so, children commit themselves to being good friends for others throughout the school year.

During the assembly, Aimee Bell and Krista Jewett often turned the microphone to the children to get their responses. They asked: “Why is this so important?”

A boy named James said, “If somebody wants to bully you—you have someone to guard you.”

A girl named Julia said, “You know someone will stand by your side—they’re part of your fence.”

Through their short talks, student skits and short videos, the Miller staff stressed the nationally accepted definition of bullying (that definition is included in the Bullying Is No Laughing Matter book), then they demonstrated several strategies kids can use for quickly responding, and also they emphasized the need to alert adults if bullying persists.

Aimee Bell closed the assemblies by encouraging the students: “We’re going to talk a lot about how to respond to bullying this year. Now, we all know what bullying is—and we all know what to do when we see it.”

As children make their own Fence of Friends drawings in coming weeks, Miller teachers plan to post those drawings side-by-side to form a very long Fence of Friends around the walls of the school.

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Categories: Children and FamiliesGreat With Groups

Bullying Is No Laughing Matter: Creating a ‘Fence of Friends’

Dennis the Menace in Bullying Is No Laughing Matter

CLICK THIS IMAGE to visit our free ‘Dennis the Menace’ activity guide.

WHAT are you doing for Bullying Prevention Month?

We are providing parents and teachers creative ideas for interacting with children about this problem plaguing many kids nationwide.

IS THIS A REAL PROBLEM? Yes. These days, it’s tough for adults to help kids get a handle on bullying because the attacks seem to surround children 24/7 through social media they can’t escape. This isn’t the same problem adults remember as uncomfortable playground encounters years ago. In our book by Michigan State University journalism students, The New Bullying, research shows that bullying is indeed a more persistent and dangerous problem than even a decade ago.

What are these “creative ideas” we’re providing? Teachers at Miller Elementary School in Michigan are asking their hundreds of students to take a page from our Bullying Is No Laughing Matter book—and draw pictures to discuss and display all around the school. Specifically, they’re using the free Dennis the Menace activity guide in our new section with the same name as our book: www.BullyingIsNoLaughingMatter.com

HOW ONE SCHOOL’S STUDENTS ARE CREATING A ‘FENCE’

As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I met with some of the staff at Miller Elementary School recently to discuss how this particular activity guide could be used school-wide. They already had printed out our Dennis the Menace activity page. On that page, a large comic shows Dennis and a friend standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a way that causes a would-be bully to walk away in a frustrated huff. The activity page then prompts readers with a thought: “The best defense is a Fence of Friends.”

Then an invitation: What does your Fence of Friends look like? Try drawing a picture of you with your Fence of Friends. Try not to forget anyone!

Then a reminder: “While Dennis the Menace is known to be a troublemaker, he’s never crossed the line into bullying.”

One of the teachers said: “We could have our children each draw their own ‘Fence of Friends’.”

We all agreed: Good idea! But, what about the more isolated children in the classroom who can’t think of friends to sketch to fill the “fence row” on their 8-by-11 piece of paper?

The answer … “The adults helping with this activity can watch for this happening in the group,” I said. “Some kids will whip off a sketch with many friends. Others will sit staring at their own figure on the paper. Here’s the best part: You can ask the speedy-sketching, outgoing children to consider walking around the room to look for children who have space on their paper for a friend. The kids themselves can demonstrate this concept of forming a ‘Fence of Friends’ by drawing themselves into another child’s ‘fence.’ “

“I like that!” another teacher said. “Drawing yourself into someone else’s Fence of Friends to show that you’re going to be an ‘up-stander,’ someone who stands up as a friend for others. That’s a good idea.”

This week, Miller school kids are working on this idea. Teachers are having children make their drawings, which may wind up forming a school-wide Fence of Friends. And they are planning two assemblies this week to talk with younger and then older kids about the problem of bullying. They plan to show off their ever-growing fence as a school-wide commitment made by the children themselves.

GET INVOLVED WITH FRIENDS!

And, that’s just one study guide in our growing website. The book contains three dozen different comics, each one useful as a “discussion starter” for teachers and parents who want to interact with kids about this tough problem of bullying. While looking at a cartoon in the book, it’s easy to ask questions like: “Have you seen that happen?” “What should happen next in this comic?” “Want to draw your own?”

Bookmark www.BullyingIsNoLaughingMatter.com and come back every week for another new activity guide.

In addition to Dennis the Menace, we’ve also published guides to these comics: Blondie, Broom Hilda, Pickles, For Better or For Worse, Rip Haywire, Luann, Jump Start, Stone Soup and It’s Magick.

A new guide appears each Monday, so stay tuned! And tell friends! Use the blue-“f” Facebook or envelope-shaped email icons with this column to spread the news.

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Categories: Children and FamiliesPeacemaking

Back to School buzz: News about ‘Bullying Is No Laughing Matter’

Bullying Is No Laughing Matter headlinesTHANKS—to all of our colleagues in news media nationwide who are sharing headlines about Bullying Is No Laughing Matter with their readers. Before we look at some of those news stories, let’s answer a few questions:

THE LATEST NEWS …

What’s the buzz? Here are some of the stories this week …

NEW JERSEY’S ANN BRASCO—She’s the “Parental Guidance” columnist for the 12 newspapers that team up at the NJ.com website. In Ann’s column about the new comic book, she writes about the strong link between childhood and comics: “As a child, I loved to read comic strips. Lively casts of characters and unlikely heroes made me laugh and they made me think. It was exciting to join them on their adventures, to learn the lesson in their mistakes, and I certainly slept a little better at night believing that there was a team of heroes out there a bit braver than I was, who would come to my rescue should I need help. A new team of heroes has now been assembled to address a national epidemic.” You can read her entire column here. (Want to do a good deed right now? Go to Ann’s column, where you can Facebook “like” it or send her another kind of encouraging note. In this era of vanishing newspapers, journalists need your encouragement!)

WHY WRITERS LIKE ANN BRASCO MATTER—Media is so deeply interconnected today that we’ve already seen Ann’s coverage of the Bullying Is No Laughing Matter campaign show up as a recommended link on other websites concerned with parenting and back-to-school issues. That’s one reason Ann’s thoughtful work matters—because others can quickly share it across the Internet. (Have you got a blog, newsletter, Pinterest page or website where you could share a link to Ann’s column? Every time we share this news, it helps.)

King Features Comics Kingdom logoKING OF COMICS—King Features, the huge comics network, is a big supporter of this new comic book. First, King Features published a news story about Bullying Is No Laughing Matter. Then, King recommended the book in a special column that was posted in King’s giant online website for comics: COMICS KINGDOM. In that column, King editors said the anti-bullying comic book is a sign of how much good-hearted comic artists want to help people in need. The column groups the news of the new comic book with news about comic artists joining in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. (Want to see a couple of cool new Ice Bucket videos? Check out this column in the OurValues website. Come on! One of them features Kermit the Frog!)

Mary Worth salutes Bullying Is No Laughing MatterMARY WORTH’S ADVICE—Since the 1930s, Mary Worth has been sharing her sage advice on newspaper comic pages. In recent years, she has tackled every social ill from drug abuse to teen pregnancy. At ReadTheSpirit, we thank Mary Worth for contributing a comic strip to this new book—and now for quickly telling her online fans about the project.

CLEVER COVERAGE FROM NICK GLUNT—In Ohio, the Medina-Gazette’s Nick Glunt cleverly looked through our new comic book to find comic artists who live in his part of the country. “Localizing news stories” has become a mainstay of contemporary journalism. Nick Glunt found that Tom Batiuk, a major contributor to the book, lives in Ohio. Nick began his story: “When nationally syndicated newspaper comic strip writer Tom Batiuk was in grade school, he once saw a girl bullied by his peers and did nothing.” You can read Nick’s entire story here. (Want to localize a story for your readers? Email us and we can tell you if there are local connections with Bullying Is No Laughing Matter.)

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Children and FamiliesGreat With Groups

Now it’s your turn to show ‘Bullying Is No Laughing Matter’

Family Patterns Matter group in Newman Georgia

NEWNAN, GA. The Family Patterns Matter group is enthusiastic about the “Bullying Is No Laughing Matter” campaign. This south-Atlanta group welcomes teens and young adult alumni with the mission: “Youth Empowering Youth.” This year, the members’ special focus is bullying issues in schools, churches and throughout the community. They are creating a public service announcement that will be shown on local TV. They are especially interested in the definition of bullying that is presented in our new book. The goal of this diverse group echoes the advice in the new comic book: Young people have power that can help put an end to bullying.

THE BUZZ is spreading as millions of American kids head back to school. This year, friends and family concerned about bullying have a colorful new resource: The historic “team up” of 36 American comics in Bullying Is No Laughing Matter, available at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Cover of the Bullying Is No Laughing Matter comic bookWe all want to thank the teens and adults in the Georgia group who posed with the book and with a no-bullying sign, then snapped a photo—and emailed it to us. They are showing the world what young people can do. Want to follow their example? Scroll down …

LET US HELP YOU
IN YOUR COMMUNITY

VISIT OUR FREE COMICS SECTION—Each week in our new comics section, we’re giving you a free discussion guide to one of the 36 comics in our new book. Small groups nationwide want to talk about responses to bullying. Share these creative resources. This week’s free guide features Blondie.

SEND US YOUR PHOTO AND STORY—Anti-bullying groups range from small circles of friends in schools and churches to big non-profits. We all share one goal: Spreading awareness of this message. One way you can do that is snap a photo of your group—just as the Georgia group did this week—and email it to BullyingIsNoLaughingMatter@gmail.com That’s a powerful way to show the world that you’re part of this nationwide effort.

GET THE BOOK—The book is packed with resources to help your group. The 36 comics are eye-catching discussion starters and there’s real substance here for group organizers, including the new national definition of bullying. That section was of particular interest to the Georgia group. Bullying Is No Laughing Matter is available at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

IT’S EASY TO SHARE YOUR PHOTO

CLICK ON THIS IMAGE to enlarge it. Right click on the large image and you can save it to your computer for easy printing.

CLICK ON THIS IMAGE to enlarge it. Right click on the large image and you can save it to your computer for easy printing.

PRINT THE SIGN—With this column, we are posting a sample No-Bullies sign that you can print and hold in your photo. Want to see many more examples of this campaign? The book’s creator, Kurt Kolka, produced a video of men and women in lots of locations, including Comic Cons, showing their support through photos.

SHARE THE BADGE—Another easy way to show the world that you’re part of this nationwide campaign is to download our free, colorful Web badge and place it on your Facebook page, in your newsletter or on your website. If you do that, please email us and let us know. We want to help you spread the word about your efforts in  your part of the country.

USE THE HASHTAG—Our friends are using #notfunny to find each other in social media.

VISIT US ON FACEBOOK—Hundreds of friends already have checked in at our Facebook page for the Bullying Is No Laughing Matter campaign. Please, stop by and show your support. Through that page, we’re happy to share support for your group, as well. Let us know what you’re doing. PLUS, there’s a really cool graphic on our Facebook page showing all the comics in the book at a glance. Seriously—check it out!

WHY COMICS?

th Bullying Is No Laughing Matter and Kurt KolkaWherever we travel with copies of this book, people stop us and ask to flip through these colorful pages. Americans love their comics! Read our interview with Kurt Kolka to learn more about that century-long love affair with cartoon characters.

Kurt Kolka asked the book’s contributors to explain this deep relationship. One of the best answers came from Neal Rubin at The Detroit News, the writer for the popular Gil Thorp comic strip. Neal said …

For a lot of people, the comics page was the entryway to reading newspapers. For me, in first grade, it was the sports section, but I absolutely read the comics as well. I’ve always had a soft spot for what I think of as starter comics—the ones that might seem silly to adults, but serve as the bait to help hook kids on reading. In my youth, that meant “Nancy.” Today, it might be “Overboard.” Aside from “Nancy,” the strips I recall reading back then were “B.C.,” which was in its heyday, “Brenda Starr” and “Rick O’Shay” about a sheriff in the Old West.

Kids still love comics—adults, too! Join us in this exciting nationwide movement. We hope to hear from you!

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

 

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Categories: Children and FamiliesGreat With GroupsPeacemaking

The Kurt Kolka interview on ‘Bullying Is No Laughing Matter’

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Bullying Is No Laughing Matter
Cover of Bullying Is No Laughing Matter comic book

Click the cover to learn more about buying the book.

Millions of American children are heading back to school—and many of them are dreading that first day, wondering: Will I be bullied?

Do you know one of these kids?

Be honest: Were you once one of these kids? In the weeks we have been preparing for the historic launch of this anti-bullying “Team Up” with 36 popular comics—our staff has been surprised by the responses of adults who got an early glimpse of the book. Wherever our staff traveled, carrying pre-launch copies of this book—into schools, churches, coffee shops and, in one case, even into a car dealership where the staff was eager to see the book—this experience is repeated …

Adult men and women eagerly look at the cover and flip the colorful pages. They smile. Then, many of them shake their heads knowingly and tell a personal story. About a friend who was bullied. A son or daughter. A brother or sister. Often, they tell a story of bullying they suffered themselves. Sometimes, people admit to having been bullies—and tell us the experiences that turned their lives around. That’s the power of this book.

BUT WAIT! You may be rolling your eyes and saying, “Isn’t all this anti-bullying stuff just a fad?” You may be saying, “Isn’t bullying just a way of life in America?”

THIS NEW BOOK says: Yes, bullying sure is a way of life in America! It’s been going on for generations but there are simple lessons we all can learn to make it stop. Even better: This process of learning about bullying—and forming supportive friendships to end the practice—can be downright fun! Just look at the two truly super videos Kurt Kolka produced to accompany this historic new comic book. One video explains the new nationwide definition of “bullying;” the second video shows scores of enthusiastic supporters of this movement nationwide.

WHY DO WE SAY ‘HISTORIC’? Kurt Kolka is a nationally known comics expert and he collaborates with his wife, educator Diane Schunk Kolka, in this project with our publishing team. In our long careers, we’ve never heard of such a diverse “Team Up” of comic artists in producing a single book with a single message like this. This effort is, indeed, “historic” and we’re honored to report that one of the very first copies of this book is being placed in the collection of the prestigious Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University. The publication of this book is big news!

GET INVOLVED YOURSELF!

There’s so much you can do today …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH KURT KOLKA ON
‘BULLYING IS NO LAUGHING MATTER’

DAVID: Comic books are super popular! They’re in movie theaters and on TV. “Comic Cons,” big comic conventions, are held in major cities. This new anti-bullying comic book is buzzing around the comic world. Tell us about the support you’re already receiving as we officially launch this book.

Kurt Kolka

Kurt Kolka

KURT: We started organizing this project more than a year ago. When I began taking this message of “Bullying Is No Laughing Matter” to Comic Cons with me, the response was very surprising! A lot of people began coming up to me, telling me they’d heard about this project and they wanted to know more. Over and over again, I heard stories of people who had experienced bullying themselves—appreciating the fact that someone was organizing a project like this.

I began asking people if they wanted to take a photo, often with an anti-bullying sign, to show their support and lots of people did that. We even had celebrities stop by and pose with a sign to show their support. Then, as we began inviting comic artists to participate in the book, we found many of them were eager to share their work to help this project.

DAVID: People may think of comics as stories packed with violence. Back in the 1950s, many parents thought comics were bad for children. Of course, today comics are celebrated everywhere you turn. You can’t buy a children’s meal in many fast-food restaurants and not find a comic character in the wrappings.

In this book, you and your dozens of comic friends are showing Americans that comic creators are not only popular—they’re also compassionate folks.

KURT: I’ve been drawing and writing The Cardinal for many years and I’ve gotten to know lots of other cartoonists and comic artists and writers. As a group, I’m proud to say that we combine compassion with our creativity. Especially the newspaper comic strip artists and writers: They’re very caring individuals. In working with the contributors to this book, I discovered that many of them were bullied themselves when they were young, or someone close to them was bullied. Some of those short stories are in this new book.

Tom Batiuk wrote one of the opening pieces for the book. He does the Funky Winkerbean and Crankshaft comic strips. Tom has been honored over the years for issues he’s dealt with in his comic strips, things like how cancer affects people’s lives. When I was talking with Lynn Johnston about her For Better or For Worse contribution to this book, she told me that some of the earlier comic strips she had done on the effects of bullying had been welcomed in schools. She agreed this is an important issue. She’s already seen her own comics used in school groups—and now she’s also part of this larger team in this new book.

A BOOK (AND A MOVEMENT)
WHERE EVERYONE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE

DAVID: When people open this book and start talking about bullying, one of the surprises may be: This is a book that’s good for bullies as well as for people who’ve been bullied. At several points in your book, there’s a clear message that bullying also is a problem for the bullies themselves. Everyone suffers when this problem continues. I don’t want to spoil your Cardinal adventure in this book by revealing too much, but the guy we think is a horrible enemy in your story—well, we learn that he was both bullied and he became a bully himself.

KURT: That’s a very important point. We all need to understand this problem. Of course, we want to encourage kids who are facing this dilemma. Every week, we see tragic news headlines about kids who don’t survive bullying. It’s very serious. But it’s a complex problem and we want everyone to get involved in discussing the solutions.

th Bullying Is No Laughing Matter website

Click this icon to see a sample of Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey that’s part of the ‘Bullying Is No Laughing Matter’ project.

One of my heroes, as a comic artist myself, is Mort Walker. I remember how excited I was the day I got a personal note from Mort and I learned that he would be part of this. It was on a Sunday morning just before my family and I went to church and I felt so great all that day.

Then, it was so interesting as I learned more from Mort about his life. I learned that at one point in his earlier life, he was a bully. He would push people around and he got praise from some of the adults around him—Mort mentioned a coach who praised him as a model of a tough guy. Then, he learned that was not the way to live his life. He decided he had to change. We’ve all got important stories to share so that we can help the young people facing these dilemmas right now. I’m so pleased that great comic artists like Mort Walker wanted to be part of this.

THE CARDINAL:
MEET A COURAGEOUS YOUNG SUPER HERO

DAVID: In addition to the 35 short stories and cartoon panels from other comic artists—you created the most extensive adventure in the book, making it 36 comics in all. This big new book is published as a “Flip Book,” which means it has two covers. Readers can start from the “gallery” side of the book  (the red cover shown with this interview); or they can flip the book over and start reading a more in-depth Cardinal adventure, which is almost as long as a “graphic novel” that you’ve created about the problem of bullying. So tell us about your super hero.

KURT: Like Superman is Clark Kent, the Cardinal is Rich Benton. He is a young man who comes from a family of scholars who are well-known archaeologists. So that means Rich had lots of unique opportunities early in life to travel around the world with his parents. Instead of going to Disney World, his family would fly off to a remote archaeological dig.

He’s a young man from a church-going family and he lives in a college town, where he decides to help out the poor and needy through volunteering at a local mission. He begins to discover that, beyond the immediate needs of many poor people in his community, there are some corrupt powerful people who have a personal interest in keeping people poor. He decides that he has to stand up to the larger injustices he sees. Eventually, he teams up with a police detective, an older man who is a bit jaded after too many years of dealing with crime and injustice.

So, the Cardinal is really a college student who wants to help his community. His heart is in the right place, but he’s young and sometimes he doesn’t always find the best way to solve problems the first time he tries to help. He doesn’t want to use his fists in battling the bad guys. In fact, he opposes using weapons in general. He does carry a boomerang, but he uses that to disarm any criminals he encounters if they do have weapons.

DAVID: He sounds to me like a lot of the best comic book super heroes I remember reading over the years. His heart is in the right place, but sometimes he makes mistakes. He’s vulnerable, yet he’s courageous enough to keep pursuing justice.

KURT: When I created the Cardinal years ago, I deliberately gave him only one super power: the ability to fly. I did that purposely so that the Cardinal had to use his brains. Flying gives him some real advantages as a hero, but he’s not Superman strong and he’s not invulnerable like Superman.

DAVID: He reminds me a little bit of Batman, who is an athletically trained human. He’s not an alien from another world, like Superman who came to earth as a baby.

KURT: I wanted the Cardinal to be human like the rest of us and to struggle with the problems we all face. He’s really got some super advantages, because of all of his physical training. And, he can fly and he uses his boomerang very adeptly. He’s a super hero. But I wanted readers to see themselves in the struggles he is facing.

EXCITING STORIES FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

DAVID: A year or so ago, we published another popular book about ways to end bullying, researched and written by a team from the Michigan State University School of Journalism: The New BullyingThat book has been highly praised for its research and clear writing on how forms of bullying have changed in recent years. It’s a great book for parents and teachers and other adults who care about kids to learn about how tough it is to escape bullying today, especially with 24/7 social media surrounding kids these days.

But a lot of readers said: This is great for adults. But how do we get the discussion going with kids themselves? That was one of the main motives in our working with you on this project. This comic book is packed with comic strips that act as “discussion starters.” People read the short comics and we’ve seen it over and over again even before we’ve officially launched the book: People want to start talking!

What’s your hope as we launch the book?

KURT: My wife is a teacher and she worked with me on this project. We’ve encountered so many people who have been bullied and who are eager talk, if there is a positive way to get the conversation going. This book is that invitation.

The biggest problem in dealing with bullying is getting people to sit down and start talking honestly. There is a whole lot of shame that surrounds the problem of bullying. People are afraid to talk about it. In this book, you’ll find dozens of comics with encouraging messages that many people face bullying, we all need to face this dilemma together. If you’ve been bullied, you’re not alone. If you’re a bully, you’re not alone. And we all need to talk honestly about ways to help each other.

Want to help reduce bullying? The first step is communication. Whatever your age is—this book gets the conversation started.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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The March: U.S. Rep. John Lewis rewrites history with a comic book

UPDATE: Since this original 2013 column was published, Lewis released Volume 2 of his graphic novel and then in 2016 he published the third volume. All three volumes now are available in as a set from Amazon.

FROM TOP:

FROM TOP: New York Times and other major newspapers are extensively covering U.S. Rep. John Lewis and his comic book. The cover of Volume 1 in what Lewis projects as a series is titled “The March.” Even Stephen Colbert reported on Lewis’s publication. Finally, the cover of the 1958 comic book that inspired Lewis as a teen-ager.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia already is famous as a living hero of the civil rights movement, still crusading in Washington D.C. against new threats to civil rights. He regularly appears in major news reports about the controversy over voting rights in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that erases many long-standing protections. As the August 28th 50-year anniversary of the March on Washington looms, he suddenly is appearing on front pages and in network TV reports as the sole surviving speaker at that historic event in the summer of 1963.

What’s more, he’s suddenly popular with younger Americans as the first U.S. congressman to write a comic book—a graphic novel. He made a personal appearance at Comic-Con San Diego where even celebrities lined up to meet him. However, as the New York Times reports: Lewis was far more interested in this comic book “as a way for him to reach young people and fulfill his duty to ‘bear witness.'”

What the NYTimes did not report was that Lewis was inspired by a comic book he read as an 18-year-old budding activist. The Washington Post did include a mention of that 1958 comic book in its recent coverage of Lewis: “As a young man, Lewis got his hands on the 1958 comic book ‘Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story,’ which, he said, with its poster-colored lesson of nonviolent protest, inspired many student activists. ‘It was about the way of love,’ Lewis says. ‘We were beaten and arrested . . . and that comic book inspired me to make trouble. But it was the good kind of trouble.’ “

Now out of print, the original comic is available in various archives. It was produced under the auspices of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. You can see the cover of the comic book, at right today. You can read more about the history of the 1958 comic book, thanks to Comic Vine, a website that has emerged in recent years as well-respected haven of information on classic comics as well as reviews of current releases.

Read more about various key figures related to the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Daniel Buttry’s inspiring book, Blessed Are the Peacemakers. Buttry also has published online his entire chapter on the remarkably courageous career of John Lewis.

REVIEW OF ‘MARCH, BOOK ONE’
By David Crumm

As Editor of Read The Spirit online magazine, I am proud to say that we have published many stories about the importance of comics, comic books and graphic novels in sharing stirring stories about faith and cross-cultural issues.

So, I was eager to read John Lewis’s graphic novel and tell readers what you will find in between its brightly colored paperback covers.

The first surprise: While I understand that John Lewis is the first congressman to produce such a book, I still find myself stopping and staring at the book’s first page. Inside the front cover is one of U.S. Rep Lewis’s official Washington D.C. portraits. That juxtaposition alone—the 1960s civil rights movement on the cover and one of our nation’s top elected leaders on the inside cover—tells us a lot about this dramatic half century.

Of course, Lewis understands drama! The new PBS documentary film, The March, includes the story of how a very young John Lewis turned in an advance copy of the speech he intended to deliver at the podium in 1963—and discovering that his planned text was so dramatic that some of the more timid leaders almost bolted from the event.

In his graphic novel, Lewis opens his story on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Five pages of gripping scenes show the police violence unleashed that day on the steadfastly nonviolent protesters. Then—Lewis flashes forward to Washington D.C., as congressmen conduct the nation’s business these days. Visitors arrive at Rep. Lewis’s office and begin asking questions. Clearly, his concern as a storyteller is the important legacy of the civil rights movement. This isn’t a tale told for the sake of nostalgia; this comic book is an educational campaign to capture the imagination of young people today.

In fact, most of “Book One” is about Lewis’s own youthful days in the movement—especially dramatic scenes in the nonviolent protests that opened up integrated seating at lunch counters. Appropriately, readers meet other heroes of the movement, too: Diane Nash and James Lawson make courageous appearances in this first book.

Book One ends with the triumph in Nashville, when segregated lunch counters finally yielded to the moral force and fearless action of the young protesters. An actual section of one such lunch counter now is on display at the Smithsonian Institution—on the very Mall where, in later volumes of Lewis’s graphic novel, the tide of history will carry these heroes.

CARE TO READ MORE? Order a copy of March Book One from Amazon. You also can read much more about John Lewis in this excerpt from Daniel Buttry’s book, Blessed Are the Peacemakers. We also have posted online Buttry’s stories about Nash and Lawson. Enjoy!

Care to See John Lewis?

Below, you can click to watch what we think is one of the best video news reports floating around the Internet about John Lewis’s new comic book project. If you don’t see a video screen in your version of this story, try clicking on the story’s headline to reload the page. (And note: The original poster of this news report on Lewis has included a 15-second commercial message that plays before the report.)

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Categories: Movies and TVPeacemaking