Professor breaks barriers in the comic book world

Dr. Sheena Howard’s new comic book “Superb,” co-written with Marvel comic book writer David F. Walker, features a main character with Down Syndrome.

By Paige Ewing 

The world is becoming more open to those with differences, and Sheena Howard’s new comic book “Superb” is no different.

Howard, associate professor of communication, has co-written with Marvel writer David F. Walker to produce the comic book.

In the new Lion Forge comic Catalyst Prime series, “Superb” features Jonah, a teenage boy born with Down Syndrome, a genetic chromosomal disorder causing developmental delays, along with his friend Kayla who has her own struggles as an African American teenaged girl.

Howard has focused on comic books before, during her dissertation at Howard University, leading her to publish the 2014 Eisner Award-winning “Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation.”

She was the first black female to win the Eisler Award, the comic equivalent to an Oscar.

Howard explained that she wrote her award-winning book for academic purposes and that the process of writing a book versus analyzing one is much different.

“It was really a critical cultural analysis of comics, so it was like looking from the outside in,” she said. “But writing a comic is being on the inside and doing things from the inside out.”

“Superb” is breaking barriers, as it is the first comic book featuring a character with Down Syndrome. The effect of including people with disabilities in media is having a positive effect on many readers, including those with Down Syndrome, according to Wendy Heath, professor of psychology.

“Having characters that represent our lives is important, both for those with and without the disability,” said Heath. “Those without the disability are made more aware of what the disability entails and what is possible. Those with the disability are shown that they, too, are represented and can achieve.”

While creating “Superb,” the writing team worked closely with the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS).

“NDSS is willing to help our creators explain and to help our readers understand,” Lion Forge President Geoff Gerber said in a public statement to The Hollywood Reporter.

“Nothing could be more important when telling the story of a character who acquires powers that increase his capabilities without taking away his disabilities.”

Howard is not just creating characters to represent those with Down Syndrome.

She is also tackling teenage relationships.

“At the end of the day, I view ‘Superb’ as a coming of age story with these two teenaged kids,” she said.

She has used many Rider students as her inspiration.

“I thought about my students at Rider University and the way they would talk in the classroom, especially the freshmen, the younger ones who behave according to their age,” she said. “I think we have done a really good job with the characters acting and speaking like teenagers.”

This story tackles not only teenage culture but has allowed Howard to break barriers within the communication industry as well.

“Breaking into the comic book industry as a woman alone, and then as a woman of color, you are really breaking into a world controlled by men,” she said.

Heath validated this statement by saying that “in children’s books, doctors and scientists are often represented as males. Researchers have found that children often think of males, and not females, filling those roles. Does that affect or limit what the child thinks he or she can do? Perhaps.”

Although there are some difficulties for women to get into male-dominated industries, it has allowed Howard, through the process of writing “Superb,” to reveal some truths about herself.

“I have learned the importance of having people in your life who are different than you, who have a different perspective than you, because they bring out the best in you ­— other things in you that might not be second nature to your personality,” she said.

Howard is also the author of “Black Queer Identity Matrix” and “Critical Articulations of Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation.” She created a documentary titled “Remixing Colorblind” in 2015 and frequently contributes to news outlets such as the Huffington Post.


Published in 09/06/17 Edition.

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