The Top Thirteen Pagan Comics
mercredi 3 décembre 2003
Of Witches, Gods and the World The Top Thirteen Pagan Comics by Rebecca Salek Introduction
Yep, there it is. The "P" word. Pagan. *collective gasp* And yes, I am one, unapologetically, wholeheartedly. *second collective gasp*
The term Pagan has become something of a catch-all phrase in general usage, applied to any religion not among the Big Five (Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam) or their respective off-shoots (like Jainism or Mormonism). Within Pagan circles, though, the term has a much more specific definition : Pagan is anyone or anything related to the practice of the preChristian religions of Europe, the Near East and Egypt.* So, someone who honors the old Gods of Lithuania or follows the way of Ma’at like the ancient Egyptians is a Pagan. The term is generally not applied to indigenous peoples or their practices, such as Native Americans or the Maori of New Zealand. Wicca is considered a subdivision within Paganism, like Catholicism is a subdivision within Christianity.
What has this to do with comics, you ask ? Everything. I’m a Pagan who loves comics, so naturally I went in search of comics with Pagan characters, themes, elements, et cetera. And I was surprised at what I found.
First, There are very, very few comics that could be considered truly Pagan - just as there are very, very few comics that could be considered Buddhist or Christian. Oh, a comic might feature demons and angels, but that does not necessarily make it Christian : I mean, who would pick up an issue of Avengelyne or Warrior Nun Areala as a religious teaching tool ? The same may be said of Pagan comics : magic, Gods, and Goddesses do not a Pagan comic make.
Consider the character of Zatanna, who has appeared in quite a few DC and Vertigo comics over the last forty-odd years. Zatanna is a sorceress who speaks her spells backwards, battles demons and evil witches, and generally looks after the occult side of things. But there is little in the way of spirituality in her character or adventures : she rarely deals with the nature of the soul, the nature of the Divine, the conflict between free will and fate. She’s a super hero who uses magic.
Contrast Zatanna with another DC character, Wonder Woman. Princess and Ambassador of the Amazons, Diana is more than just a super hero. She regularly interacts with her beloved Goddesses and Gods, questions her own faith, strives to keep her soul pure of greed or jealousy, and to raise up those around her to fulfill their innate potential.
Second, "Pagans" and "Paganism" are too often employed as the villains of the piece, often by writers whose research seems to consist of watching an episode or two of Buffy and Bewitched. Ugh. The most recent example of this is the current Magdalena series (Top Cow). I was actually offended by how Paganism was portrayed, combining as it did blood sacrifice, the Burning Man carnival and some mishmash of Celtic mythology and Catholicism.
By my definition, then, there are few really good comics which can be considered Pagan. What follows is my list of the best of the best, based upon my own reading. So, as much as I probably should, I do not include Dawn (Sirius) or Courtney Crumrin (Oni) because I have never read either series.
Age of Bronze (Image). Incredibly detailed, thoroughly researched retelling of the Trojan War. No Zeus throwing lightning bolts from on-high, no flashy magic. Just life as it really would have been lived in the Bronze Age Aegean. Excellent resource for any historian or student of religion or Hellenic Pagan out there.
Aria (Image). While the first series dealt with the typical fantasy elements of Faeries, an evil God and saving the world, the second Aria series, The Soul Market, deals more explicitly with matters of the spirit and the consequences of choice. Both are recommended, if only for their gorgeous artwork.
Artesia (Sirius, Archaia). A beautifully illustrated, intricately written series about a warrior/queen/priestess/witch. A devout follower of the old ways who can see the dead and speak with the spirits of land and water, Artesia finds herself both at odds with and allied alongside an army devoted to the new solar religion, both opposed to an even greater evil. Not for the faint of heart, and highly recommended.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Dark Horse). This series barely made the list. Forget all the monsters and demons ; those could just as easily appear in any standard fantasy comic. Buffy makes the list because of Willow and Tara, two Wiccans who are also lovers. While the Wicca practiced by them barely scratches the surface of that faith, it explores enough of the theology to qualify.
Charm School (SLG). A highly entertaining, fantastical series about a witch named Bunny, her girlfriend Dean, and the faerie Fairer Than. Amusing, sweet and serious.
Finder (Lightspeed Press). Essentially anthropolgical science fiction, Finder follows Jaegar across a world of domed cities, talking cats, and nomadic tribes. While no "real" religion is featured, creator Carla Speed McNeil heavily references (or alludes to) everything from shamanism to native Hawaiian religion to humanism to metaphysics to Tantric Yoga to the spirituality of dance. Highly recommended.
Hammer of the Gods (Image). A sometimes serious, sometimes comedic adventure which follows the Viking warrior Hammer through the Norse universe. Beautiful Valkyries, hideous monsters and semi-competant Gods abound. A good gift for a Norse Pagan, but only one who does not take his/her religion too seriously.
Promethea (ABC). A beautiful, labyrinthine series about the nature of reality and the ultimate fate of the human soul. What begins as your standard super hero series quickly becomes something more, drawing as it does upon everything from the Kaballah to Hermeticism to tantric sex to Greek mythology to the Crusades. Recommended only to those prepared to have their preconceptions challenged.
Raven’s Children (Susitna Mythographics). In the icebound far north, three cultures clash - while the Gods sit back and play their games. Utterly compelling epic which references both Northern European and Inuit culture and mythology.
Sandman (DC/Vertigo). Oh, come on, don’t act surprised. Neil Gaiman’s seminal series, illustrated by a dozen different artists, is all about religion and faith and choice. And if you don’t want to or have already read the mainstream Sandman titles, then try related titles like The Books of Magic and The Dreaming and the collected Taller Tales.
Sheba (Sick Mind). Egypt. Islam has come to the land. The old Gods are not pleased - not that they can do much about it, forgotten, exiled, and (in many cases) thoroughly schnockered. Enter Sheba, a mummified cat awakened after millennia by tomb robbers. When she stumbles upon a plan by the evil God Seth to destroy Mecca, she joins the God Anubis to stop him - and finds an unlikely ally in Buraq, the messenger of Allah. Not, I repeat not for the easily offended. Sheba pokes fun at virtually every religion, from Roman to Christianity to Islam ; pick it up only if you can laugh at yourself.
Soulwind (Oni). Complex, highly literate, poetic, wonderfully illustrated science fiction/fantasy/metaphysical series that includes everything from time travel to Buddhism to Arthurian mythology to the Gaea Hypothesis and more. Different artistic styles differentiate the story threads. Don’t stop if you’re confused at the end of the first volume ; it all ties up at the end. Highly recommended.
Wonder Woman (DC). The world’s most recognized super heroine is more than just that : she is also devoutly religious. Heck, she used to be a Goddess. Wonder Woman is one of the few mainstream venues that treats the Greek Gods and Goddesses with anything approaching respect. Want to see a serious debate about the nature of Divinity and faith ? Check out the collected "Gods of Gotham" storyline ; beautiful and intelligent. Want to see a woman wrestle with her faith and responsibilities when they conflict with a deep friendship ? Check out The Hiketeia.
A Few to Follow-up On
If none of the above appeal to you, or you’ve already read them, or they are just not available for some reason - than I suggest one of the following.
Need something for the little kid or the grown-up kid in your life ? Try Castle Waiting (Olio, Cartoon Books), about an enchanted castle filled with fantastic creatures and a haunted library. Or, pick up Leave It To Chance (Image). More action-adventure than Pagan per se, it should nonetheless get the little ones interested enough to start asking some important questions.
Need something to really wrap your brain around ? Or warp your brain ? Try Swamp Thing (DC/Vertigo) as written by Alan Moore and Transmetropolitan (DC/Vertigo), Warren Ellis’ favorite child, one of the most rampantly individualistic comics out there.
Finally, keep an eye out for The Replacement God, a medieval fable that mixes religion, politics, magical creatures and the fate of one poor man.
As a born-again Pagan, I’m always on the lookout for books and movies and TV shows and comics which treat my faith with intelligence and respect. As hard as it is for a devout Christian to find such examples in pop culture, it is even more difficult for a Pagan. The titles listed above are not the only such comics, but they are the best. I hope that Pagan comic fans - and non-Pagan comic fans who are just plain curious - will seek them out and enjoy them as much as I did.
*Just to get technical, the Asatru, who follow the ways and Gods of the old Norse, prefer to be called Heathens. Followers of the old Celtic path are usually Druids, but not always. Glad you asked ? ;)
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