“Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us.”
- Superman, Action Comics #775
Our imagination is a powerful tool. It reminds us that the way things are now is not the way they always will be. We are capable of creating worlds, characters, stories, and our own futures.
Many of our youth share an interest in anime and comic books. During our in-person Creative Sessions, both were a frequent topic of conversation and rich debate. As we all view things through the lens of our own life experiences, a comic book plot line can take on so much personal significance. Now that we have adapted to remote programming, we can continue these conversations virtually.
The Story of Mystic began after a conversation with one of our youth about his favorite superheroes: the X-Men. The series has long been praised as an analogy for the struggle of disenfranchised groups and various Civil Rights Movements. It features characters who are hated for their powers, something they have no control over. And it can lead to deep discussions about acceptance, pain, anger, and vengeance.
After discussing some of these themes, we asked our student if there was a power they wished they could have. They responded that they’d always wanted to control the weather. The next day, we developed this idea organically, creating a little stick figure and inviting our youth to create its backstory with fill-in-the-blanks. Through this process, our youth was able to reimagine their own life story..
The character of Mystic (pronouns they/their) was viewed as a freak after getting superpowers. Their parents cast them aside, banishing them from town and into a cave. The character explains: “Living in a cave was scary at first but I overcame it. My eyes had to adjust to the darkness […] I almost wished I didn’t exist, but eventually I got over that too.”
This experience mirrors the familial rejection that our youth creator faced for being gay. After being kicked out, our youth struggled on the streets for years with mental health and addiction issues. But, like the character, they survived and used those experiences to help others. They became an advocate, which is a superhero in its own right.
Issue #1 of the comic ends with Mystic beginning to like their powers. It’s a quality that has been judged and misunderstood, but remains a strength. It takes time to unburden ourselves of the emotional baggage we carry. It’s difficult to love yourself when you haven’t been unconditionally loved by others. That is why this creative expression is so powerful. It has given our youth the chance to explore their own greatness while inspiring others.
Many can relate to feeling rejected and unwanted. But the fantastical world of a superhero allows us all to see ourselves in the story in some way. The imagination of the reader and the writer meet somewhere in the middle, inspiring one another to keep reading and keep writing.