Chronicling Modern Mormonism Through Comics

Last week my employer, Sam Houston State University, hosted a book talk that featured American hero John Lewis. Known for his Civil Rights activism, Lewis recently co-authored a trilogy that documented the fight for racial equality. Titled March, the series was different than your typical political memoir: it was a comic book. The trilogy has been received exceptionally well. Besides high sales numbers, they also were awarded an impressive number of awards, including the National Book Award. In fact, March was the first comic book to receive that distinction. Lewis’s co-author, Andrew Aydin, and artist, Nate Powell, rhapsodized about how comics are a medium through which we can better address younger generations. This seems like a noble goal, nowadays.

March wasn’t the only comic book I’ve encountered over the last few months. The other was Scott Hales’s The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl, published by Kofford Books in two volumes. Enid arrived on the scene a couple years ago with her own website and facebook page. Even before we didn’t know who the author was—was it really a teenage girl?—the Mormon world loved Enid’s awkward encounters and bloggernacle-themed clothing. (I was won over the moment she donned a Juvenile Instructor-themed t-shirt.) I was excited when it appeared in a more permanent book form. If nothing else, it is cultural remnant of 2010s Mormonism.

I won’t spend too much time on the medium of the story, or even the story. Both of these have been covered elsewhere. There are certainly things to critique. The Enid character never demonstrates much depth, and supporting figures rarely move beyond stereotypes. The obese stereotype attached to Enid’s traumatic mother is especially unfortunate. As snapshots of various scenes, there isn’t much development. Someone looking for a deep and moving story will likely be disappointed.

But I didn’t expect Garden of Enid to supply that need. Instead, I enjoyed these volumes as humorous, if fleeting, images of the awkwardness of Mormon culture during an especially awkward moment in the tradition’s history. Frankly, to be a thinking Mormon in the twenty-first century is to be inundated with awkwardness. Enid is brave enough to ask questions, but the book is careful to demonstrate that she never gets an answer—either from her modern-day friends or her past-age prophetic interlocutors. There are few solid conclusions in these pages. And that’s a good thing.

My soon-to-be-8yo daughter, after reading through the comics, noticed the same thing. Where is the conclusion? “Sorry sweetie, there isn’t one.” Among other things, Garden of Enid sparked some great conversations, as my daughter loved to read them and then ask questions. So beside the artistic and narrative qualities of these volumes, they prove a potent cultural artifact of, well, an awkward moment in the Mormon moment.

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