3 Comic Book Stories That Inspired Me To Stop Being A Dick :)

Forgive the language, Mom!

It’s time for me to break some bad news to ya, kid. Whether you like it or not, you have been someone’s worst nightmare. You might not even know it, but I can guarantee you there is someone in the world who wishes they’d never met you. While I’d like to pretend this doesn’t matter, I want to confront it head on for what it is: a terrible aspect of being a human that we have the power to change. Sure, we have bad days – sometimes bad years! – but what if we were capable of learning how to cut the impulse off at the base before it can sprout branches? What if we could learn to stop being (for lack of a better word) such raging assholes?

While it might be tempting to claim we’re perfect angels, it’s healthy to admit that sometimes even good people can be total jerks. One of the most difficult steps in the quest to better ourselves is coming to terms with our selfishness, rage, cruelty, and ignorance, dissecting where those actions are coming from, then putting in the work to become better versions of ourselves.

When I first started going to therapy I saw myself as the one true victim, and in many ways I was. However, the changes started happening when I forgave myself for the things that I couldn’t control AND took responsibility for the hardships I created, whether for myself, or others. Acknowledging my own mistakes didn’t negate the suffering I survived; on the contrary, I learned to recognize how complex life can be and was finally able to release a lot of the internalized rage I was carrying.

An even bigger piece of my journey in releasing my crappy attitude was – you guessed it – comics! I picked up some of my favorites and dove back into them with a new perspective on the world and myself, and was blown away by how my interpretation of their messages had changed. When you’ve got nothing to do but heal and read, you’d be amazed at what you can absorb. As I read, I started to understand the greatest message of all was being transmitted loud and clear: be kind. Be patient. And best of all, be the kind of hero you have the power to be.

Without further ado, here they are!

Origin: Wolverine

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Wolverine has always been one of my favorite characters. He’s small, surly, and witty with a touch of heart to balance it all out. Logan, as he is known when he’s with his X family, always rushed into battle to defend the innocent and punish the evil for their misdeeds in a way that few could, so I thought of him as untouchable. When this comic arc premiered, I was elated to be able to get a glimpse at how he got his start, however I wasn’t prepared for how sad it would make me. After reading it as a teen I put it away until it was time for me to discover my own healing factor. Upon re-reading, I learned that even the strongest of us can survive and inflict pain, but that the real test is doing the right thing even when we want to lash out. The storyline reveals how just a few acts of cruelty can change the lives of many people over and over again ad infinitum. It made me question how my actions could affect people even beyond my reach.

X-Men Unlimited: Mystique

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Now, Mystique is known as a foe to the X-Men in the comics (not so much in those terrible films), so getting to see her background wasn’t something I was interested in at first. However, when my Dad encouraged me to read the arc as an adult I saw how complex the character was. Mystique, to me, represents the grey area we all exist in. She’s both victim and villain, nurturing mother and cold. Her story gave me a new appreciation of the other side of the story of life, where we all fail and bounce back.

Batman: Knightfall

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Batman is easily my favorite character. He’s complex, a bag of contradictions, and obsessive in a way that makes my obsessions and addictions seem quaint. What more can a girl like me ask of a superhero? I never really gravitated toward the Supermans and the Captain Americas of the comic world, because they represented a very specific type of perfection that I had no hope of ever achieving in the realm of reality. But a masked vigilante with trauma and attachment issues? That, I can work with. However, the real hero of this arc isn’t The Bat, it’s a Black woman who loves and rehabilitates him – Dr. Shondra Kinsloving. She’s not as big and powerful as Batman, and deals with a great deal of suffering, but manages to maintain an air of confident kindness. I don’t want to spoil the arc, but I will say that when I finished it I was left questioning who I would be when I got to the other side of my pain: someone I could respect, or a person no one would want to be around.

 

Comic books are our modern hero’s fables, the way we make sense of the world around us. No matter how far I get in my journey I keep getting the cosmic reminder that I have a couple lifetimes of learning to do. Luckily, I’ve got these blueprints to help me out along the way. What are you reading to make sense of the world at large?

The Magic of Authenticity

Do you have a hero? If so, what is it about them that has earned your admiration?

Like most kids, my heroes were big and flashy. They wore capes, they could sing, they could act, and they had the love of millions of fans. I never questioned why I seemed to only look at celebrities and superheroes as the best of us, because their fame spoke for itself. If you’re popular, then you must be perfect. But is that true?

As I began to take better care of myself, a key piece of the journey was coming to terms with my identity, with who I wanted  to be. I had a long list of heroes I wanted to emulate, however as celebrities with carefully crafted images, superheroes, and film characters, they represented a type of unattainable perfection that made me feel stuck. So, I began to look at things another way: rather than trying to become a copy of someone with status, power, and control, I decided to explore who I am already, in order to discover my authentic self.

By definition, “authentic” means “of undisputed origin;genuine”.

Distilled down for a regular person like myself, I believe authenticity means existing as you are without regard for the molds others want you to fit in. For example: I’m a survivor. I’m a Black woman, a Kansan, a right-handed singer with allergies. These are all facts, but in between those societal molds are the details and experiences that make me LaKase. I might not be exactly like Brandy (one of my earliest heroes), nor do I have the power she wields, but my authentic self is important and good in its own right.

Nowadays, my admiration is rooted in more abstract concepts: kindness, bravery, and authenticity. There are many ways to define each, whether it be through a cultural lens, a personal preference, or how I might be feeling in the moment.  But what remains constant is the work we have to put in to live our lives well. I broadcast who I am to others in the way I dress, how I speak, and in what I value in this world.

When I think about the people I admire now, it rarely has anything to do with the number of friends they have, how much money they make, or how beautiful they are but what they put into the world. The folks who continue to inspire me, and unwittingly push me to better myself, have been decidedly, radically themselves. Being yourself can be difficult, even dangerous depending on where you live or what you look like, but living your truth gives others permission to be who they are as well. That’s the magic of it all.

The videos below feature two women who make me so happy and encouraged about walking my path on my own terms. I hope you enjoy their words as much as I do.

 

“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” – Unknown

Inspired By: Matt Baker And Jackie Ormes

I grew up reading DC and Marvel, watching animated series about Batman and the X-Men,  and rushing to the theater for each new incarnation of my favorite heroes. I’ve even gone as far as cosplaying with my family at the San Diego Comic Con (which was a blast)! There’s an air of encouragement that comes along with reading about heroes and in many ways they are our modern mythologies; each time they succeed, I feel challenged to find ways to be the heroine of my own story, or to push myself beyond my limits.

The 91st Academy Awards aired last night, and I was elated to see comic book films were able to claim trophies  in several categories, with wins in Best Animated Feature (Into the Spider-Verse), as well as Costume Design/Production Design and Best Original Score (Black Panther). The women who won for Black Panther – Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler –  were the first Black women to win in their categories, and Peter Ramsey – one of the directors of Spider-Verse – was the first Black director to win in the category.

In honor of the historic wins last night, and of the books I love so much, today I want to honor two people who broke barriers in the field. Enjoy!

Jackie Ormes

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Jackie Ormes was the first Black woman to become a comic illustrator. Born in 1911 as Zelda Mavin Jackson, Ormes would become famous for creating the Torchy Brown comic strip and Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger. Jackie initially worked as a journalist for the Black-owned Pittsburgh Courier newspaper before making the transition to comic illustrator and writer in 1937 with the Torchy comic. Jackie was prolific artist, who worked until retirement in 1956.

What I love about Jackie is her dedication to confronting racism, sexuality, and environmental issues. She became so outspoken that she was eventually investigated by the FBI. In 2014, Jackie Ormes was posthumously inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame. She was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Industry Hall of Fame in 2018.

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Matt Baker

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Matt Baker is known today as the first Black man to become a comic book illustrator. He was born ten years after Jackie, in 1921, and eventually moved to her stomping ground of Pittsburgh as well. Baker was sought out and hired for his beautiful drawings of buxom women, who were heroines and adventurers.  He is most widely known, however, for Phantom Lady.  I love that Baker drew her, and other women, as strong, brave and formidable, within a realm that usually presented women as solely sexual objects.

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Additionally, Baker is credited with the creation of the first Black hero in the comic realm, known as Voodah.

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Inspired By: Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992)

Every Wednesday of Black History Month I will be featuring stories of everyday heroism that have helped to reshape the world. Whether they be writers, activists, or people who were just fed up, these icons are people I hope you’ll never forget. 

I’m ashamed to say I didn’t learn Marsha P. Johnson’s story until recently. In fact, I hadn’t heard about the Stonewall Riots, nor did I know nearly enough about the battles the LGBTQIA Community has had to fight for the basic rights afforded to straight, cis-gendered society. Yet, now that I know her name and  have learned of her work, I will never forget her story.

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Marsha P. Johnson was a New York City-based trans woman, drag queen, and sex worker who, in June 1969, fought back against a police raid of the Stonewall Inn, a bar where the LGBTQIA community could gather without fear of persecution. At the time is was illegal for them to be served, but the Stonewall Inn became their safe haven. When the police came, they decided to stand their ground and assert their human rights. Marsha  infamously shouted “I know my rights!” as she threw a shot glass and shattered a mirror. For two two nights Marsha, her friends, and other bar goers resisted.

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Following the riots, Marsha and others led gay liberation demonstrations throughout the city. In honor of their work, Pride Week is celebrated in June.

With the aid of Sylvia Rivera, Marsha founded STAR – Street Transvestite* Action Revolutionaries – to protect and house the trans youth, sex workers, and gender non-conforming youth of lower Manhattan. Johnson’s activism would last until her untimely death in 1992. Her case was originally ruled a suicide without further investigation, but in 2012 her death was re-opened to be investigated as a homicide.

Trans women have an average life expectancy of 35. Thirty-five. That means middle age hits at 17, going on 18. The stakes are even higher if you are a trans woman of color, especially a Black woman. Marsha exceeded the average by 12 years, but I can only imagine what she could have accomplished – beyond the magic she struck in her short life – had she been afforded the same opportunities as the rest of us.

I am not trans. In fact, I am a cis-gendered, straight, able-bodied woman from a middle class family. I went to college. I have privileges that make my life much more comfortable than many others, but I look at Marsha and read her story, and feel a fire. It’s our responsibility as humans to feel that burn, to know her name, to know the struggle and to fight on her behalf. I hope you’ll stand up where you can.

If you would like to learn more about Marsha’s remarkable life and cruel end, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson is available to stream on Netflix.

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*Transvestite is an out-of-date term, but was included for accuracy. The correct term today is Trans or Transgender.

Inspired By: Shirley Chisholm

Yesterday,  a huge number of Americans took to the polls for the Midterm Elections. The lines were long and in many cases the machines were down, or not working correctly. Add to the scenario the emotional weight of the event, and you’ve certainly created the perfect storm for an anxiety attack. And yet, we still showed up. We defied voter suppression and all kinds of insane obstacles to be heard. In a few cases, the outcomes weren’t great, but in many we saw change take hold.

As I kept track of the results throughout the evening my mind kept going back to a name: Shirley Chisholm. I learned about this remarkable woman at a fairly young age, but the gravity of her story didn’t hit me until I was an adult. Shirley Chisholm was a barrier smasher, a truth-speaker, a force of righteous forward movement that should inspire us all to stand up to insurmountable odds. In short? Shirley was a badass.

Shirley Chisholm

Born in 1924 to immigrant parents in Brooklyn, New York, Shirley quickly grew into a bright and talented young woman. She competed on her college debate team and graduated cum laude from Brooklyn College in 1946. In 1951 she earned her master’s degree  in early childhood education from Columbia University. Shirley then became active in the NAACP, the Urban League, the League of Women Voters, and the Democratic Party. She joined the State Legislature in 1964, then became the first Black woman in Congress in 1968. She was a fierce politician who fought for gender and racial equality, opposed and sought to end the Vietnam War, and co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971.  Shirley became the first Black woman and second woman to serve on the House Rules Committee.

In 1972 Shirley Chisholm did what no one thought possible for a Black woman: she decided to run for the Democratic nomination for president. Using the motto “Unbossed and Unbought”, Shirley was determined to be a voice for the ever-marginalized. She didn’t get the nomination, due to rampant racism and misogyny, but Shirley remained a fighter until her retirement from Congress in 1983.

I’m forever inspired by Shirley, because she refused to be pushed aside. She didn’t win the big battle in the end, but she used her voice and her will to triumph in as many skirmishes as possible. As I wrestle with the concepts of success and defeat, I find solace in the story of Shirley. She soldiered on when it might have been wise to sit back. She demanded her due in a world that would rather see her starved out. I remember her in the little skirmishes of my own path, when the end floats undefined on the horizon, and I remember that it is all worth the fight.