As a contributor to Sacred Texts & Comics, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another volume that I’m affiliated with, namely Muslim Superheroes: Comics, Islam, and Representation, coming out in the next few months. Here’s the rundown:
The roster of Muslim superheroes in the comic book medium has grown over the years, as has the complexity of their depictions. Muslim Superheroes tracks the initial absence, reluctant inclusion, tokenistic employment, and then nuanced scripting of Islamic protagonists in the American superhero comic book market and beyond.
Cover art by Deena Mohamed
This scholarly anthology investigates the ways in which Muslim superhero characters fulfill, counter, or complicate Western stereotypes and navigate popular audience expectations globally, under the looming threat of Islamophobia. The contributors consider assumptions buried in the very notion of a character who is both a superhero and a Muslim with an interdisciplinary and international focus characteristic of both Islamic studies and comics studies scholarship. Muslim Superheroes investigates both intranational American racial formation and international American geopolitics, juxtaposed with social developments outside U.S. borders.
Providing unprecedented depth to the study of Muslim superheroes, this collection analyzes, through a series of close readings and comparative studies, how Muslim and non-Muslim comics creators and critics have produced, reproduced, and represented different conceptions of Islam and Muslimness embodied in the genre characters.
I find Marianne Hirsch’s reflections on “screen memories,” and her appropriation of Aby Warburg’s notion of “pre-coined expressive values” to be quite illuminating for what is happening in this edited volume. Hirsch discusses how “images already imprinted on our brains, the tropes and structures we bring from the present to the past,” may be something like “screen memories” upon which we project our own desires but which also “mask other images and other, as yet unthought or unthinkable concerns” (Hirsch, The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture after the Holocaust, 42). We tend to appropriate common images (or as Hirsch focuses on here, familial images) that are both recognizable and comforting. This is what Warbug points to in his notion of an “inventory of re-coined expressions” as a “mass of inherited impressions” (Warburg, “The Absorption of the Expressive Values of the Past,” 280). Comics, it seems to me, do this all the time: they work with a set inventory of images and expressions that allow us readers to project our own moods and concerns onto the comic narrative. But comics also warp or bend those images, and perhaps even undermine them in subtle and sophisticated ways. Like all expressive literature, comics may limit our imaginative resources by masking alternative images, or they can expand our horizons by appealing less to screens than to portals of exploration.
Consider the essays in this volume to be portals for our expressive imaginations.
This website is dedicated to a discussion of sacred texts and comics: the ways in which these texts interact, merge, create, inform, and dynamically negotiate conceptions of religion. A group of diverse scholars have joined to produce the volume, Sacred Texts and Comics: Reimagining Religion and Graphic Narratives, edited by Assaf Gamzou and Ken Koltun-Fromm. This site will host various discussions related to that text (to be published by University Press of Mississippi in 2017) by the authors and interested participants in the broader discussion of the sacred and comics.
Sacred Texts and Comics: Reimagining Religion and Graphic Narratives explores how visual mediums and notions of the sacred interweave to produce robust accounts of the religious imaginary. The creative texts explored within this edited volume are diverse in content and form, but all share an expressive interest in modes of seeing the sacred in graphic structures. The essays pursue a critical vigilance to uncover the rhetorical play of image and text that occurs when comics engage religious literature. We have gathered a diverse group of nineteen scholars, with varying methodological and disciplinary expertise, to examine the productive intersections between religion and comics in ways that critically expand our ability to think well about religious landscapes, rhetorical practices, pictorial representation, and the everyday experiences of the uncanny. Please see the Table of Contents for a more detailed picture of the book’s contents