Darling Library exhibit features religious comic books

A comic book and its Panels

The Cross and the Switchblade, one the the religious comic books on display along with an panel from inside. Photo credit: Ashlee Polarek

When most people think of comic books they imagine Batman and Robin fighting against their infamous nemesis the Joker, but rarely do they imagine a priest with a gun pointed at his head. What would the latter comic book be considered? A religious comic book, of course.

“Hansi, the Girl who Loved the Swastika,” “Jeffery Dahmer Versus Jesus Christ,” and “Captain Israel” are just a few of the religious comic book titles currently displayed in the Darling Library’s special exhibit, “The Weird World of Religious Comics,” curated by associate professor and librarian Scott Rosen.

Collecting comics since the 1970s, Rosen now has more than 10,000 comic books, many of which are the religious ones featured in the exhibit. Religious comics have the same look and design of regular DC and Marvel comics, yet are very different.

Rosen said when religious comic books were first being created in the 1940s, most were Catholic comics. Now they span across many religions and practices.

Comics on Display. Close up

Some of the comic book art on display at the exhibit. Photo credit: Ashlee Polarek

The aim of this collection is to bring awareness not only to the existence of religious comics, but to show how much they have changed over time, the different angles they use and the variety of religions that they promote, according to Rosen.

“It’s not a high art form, but it is definitely an art form,” Rosen said. “It’s worthy of consideration, of study, of scholarship. I wanted to show the community what could be done with something as simple as a comic book.”

The exhibit’s designer, Crystal Slaton, said she is a fan of the art and idea of religious comics.

“The thing that is awesome about doing comic books is I love the fact that people, through art, can portray things that are not real, maybe, or that are seen in a different way,” Slaton said. “That’s the cool thing about comic books. It brings things into a different perspective that not everyone would see it.”

Slaton created thought bubbles that hang down from shelves and took panels from some of the books, displaying them to give viewers an idea of what lies inside the religious comics.

On Display

Photo credit: Ashlee Polarek

According to Rosen, the show holds a lot of tension, as a number of the comic books would be and are considered offensive by many. While some of the books promote religion, others poke fun at it.

“Many, but not all, contemporaneous examples poke fun at religion. You would probably not feel comfortable reading them in the company of your pastor,” Rosen said.

The exhibit will be on display in two large cabinets in the Darling Library Conference Room until May 30. There is also a reception for the exhibit at 3 p.m. on March 20 in the Darling Library Conference Room.

Comic book lovers, history buffs and curious scholars are encouraged to check out a display of culture that is often overlooked. Take a gander at the provocative titles, covers and wide range of religions that are represented in the exhibit.