A mix of new and experienced talent makes this an entertaining and thought-provoking anthology, with useful resources for young people at risk of bullying.
Even from my tangential perspective, it’s clear that mainstream comics have had a stinking dose of Sick Universe Syndrome over the past couple of weeks, with neither fans, publishers nor creators coming out of the various controversies smelling of roses.
However, the Ninth Art is as much a part of this crazy ol’ Newtonian universe as anything else, so for every action there’s a reaction. And nudging up the karma levels at the moment are the editors behind Rise: Comics Against Bullying, the first issue of which dropped last week from Northwest Press.
The title of the anthology gives a pretty good idea of its raison d’être, but Northwest’s blurb clarifies its aim: “to spark conversations and provide resources for at-risk youth in an accessible and engaging format.”
The subject of a successful Kickstarter campaign last year, the comic will also be distributed free to schools, libraries and to anyone who needs it by Northwest Press and its partner organisations: GLAAD, Stand for the Silent and Prism Comics.
All of which clearly makes it a project worthy of your support. However, it’s also a neat collection of stories that uses the versatility of the comics form to look at the issues of bullying and exclusion from a number of perspectives.
The 48-page book wheels out its biggest guns first, with Marc Guggenheim (Arrow, Green Lantern) and industry legend Howard Chaykin’s ‘Reversal of Fortune’. This is by some way the ‘oldest’ story in the book, featuring a man coming face to face with a former bully at a 20-year high-school reunion.
With the polish you’d expect from these creators, it plays out the familiar ‘living well is the best revenge’ theme, but tempers it with the awareness that bullying can never ‘unhappen’, and can have a permanent effect on people’s lives and personalities.
The other stories skew a lot younger, and cover a wide range of viewpoints and approaches. ‘Zoe’s Zombies’ (Paul Castiglia and Chris Allan) and ‘Man Up’ (Jon Carroll and Dawn Griffin) are both set in the familiar environs of an American school. While the former uses a horror trope to highlight that you can’t fight bullying with more bullying, the latter goes more explicitly into fantasy territory, with the aftermath of an alien invasion forcing one bully to take a long hard look at himself.
The alien encounters don’t stop there. In ‘Tipping Point’, Adam P Knave (Amelia Cole) and Chris Haley tackle the issue of peer pressure with the tale of an visiting UFOnaut who finally stands up to his shipmates about their treatment of earth’s cows. Elsewhere, in a charming and funny one-pager by Chris Roberson and Dennis Culver, the diverse cast of Edison Rex reflect on how we shouldn’t let others – either individuals or the media – dictate our self-image to us.
That notion of standing up against others’ expectations is also at the heart of the altogether more earthbound ‘Barbie and the Boy’ (Bradley Bell and George Zapata), a childhood memoir in which the parents of the doll-loving young protagonist either can’t or won’t get past the idea that “some things are for boys and some things are for girls”.
It’s no surprise that comics themselves play a part in a couple of the stories. Both ‘Treehouse of Solitude’ (Jeremy Thomas and Boy ‘Boykoesh’ Akkerman) and ‘Origin Story’ (Jody Houser and Jean Kang) pay tribute to comics’ power to give readers a sense of identity and community, often in the face of sneering ridicule. (Benjamin Bailey’s prose piece ‘Out of Step’ relates a similar experience in the punk music scene.)
‘Origin Story’ uses a nice little narrative trick, with the waxing and waning of the young cosplayer’s confidence depicted in how she’s drawn. As she’s assailed by doubt and anxiety, she fades into a rough sketch, but when she meets the creators of her favourite book and basks in their reassurance, she pops into full gleaming colour.
Spencer Perry and Jed Dougherty take a slightly more oblique approach in ‘Freakshow’, a very nicely rendered and atmospherically coloured ‘silent’ revisiting of the Frankenstein myth, in which the hounded creature finds himself welcomed into a new ‘family’.
The book is wrapped up with some more useful resources for young readers (discussion questions and helpline numbers) and an editorial that summarises the aims of the project. It concludes with the heartening thought that all of the stories in the book are tales of triumph: triumph over bullying, triumph over naysayers, triumph over self-doubt.
And the uplifting message behind Rise is that whatever seems to be stacked against us, we can all find a place we belong and we can all write our own tale of triumph. This is a comic and a project well worth your support.
Various (W/A) • Northwest Press, $4.99 (print)/$2.99 (digital)