This week yet another young member of the LGBTQ community took his own life after dealing with years of bullying. Last Sunday, 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer committed suicide after returning from a family camping trip. Jamey was an outgoing, apparently confident young man. After coming out last year, he recorded an It Gets Better video encouraging other LGBTQ youth to look for their support systems and to learn to love themselves. His family were supportive and he drew inspiration from the positive messages of pop superstar and social justice champion Lady Gaga.
It is heartbreaking to see any young person surrender to despair. When someone with as much strength and joy as Jamey succumbs, it sends a very powerful message. Words are weapons, and weapons can kill. Despite the increased awareness about bullying and teen suicide, the problem persists. Violence against the LGBT community is on the rise, so it is unrealistic to believe that verbal and emotional abuse are not a continuing problem.
Fortunately, we have champions who are doing their best to give our youth the tools they need to cope and to thrive. Regular TSM readers may remember the efforts of Zan Christensen and Mark Brill to print an anti-bullying comic book. Fortunately, their project exceeded its funding goal and The Power Within is now available. It’s an amazing work, managing to tell a compelling story about an interesting character while still achieving its advocacy and outreach goals. All of this without coming across as strident or preachy.
The Power Within tells the story of Shannon, a boy starting the eighth grade. It is clear that he had problems during his last year of school, and this year doesn’t start off any better. He is different from his peers in many ways – smaller, artistic, gay (although not out) – and is bullied daily. The authority figures take a sadly typical “you should try harder to fit in” approach to the problem. Shannon copes by imagining himself as a superhero with the power to defeat the bullies, but this survival daydream also increases his isolation.
I won’t spoil the powerful impact of the story by going into more detail, but as a 45-year-old man with bits of a damaged gay 14-year-old still lurking inside him, every panel rang very true. The art is beautiful and perfectly suited to moving the story forward. The plot and dialogue are appropriately simple without being simplistic. In a few short pages, Shannon is a more compelling character than many who have volumes dedicated to them. (Fair warning, this was a keep-the-tissue-box-handy read for me…)
Christensen and Brill have created the perfect message of hope for anyone struggling with not fitting in and suffering for it. Anyone who cares about LGBTQ kids should get their hands on a copy, read it, and share it. As an added bonus, a variety of comic writers and artists (including Gail Simone and Dan Parent, creator of Kevin Keller) have provided some supplemental pages. The book ends with a valuable list of discussion questions and additional resources. Congratulations, Zan and Mike, this comic is an absolute winner.
For more information about The Power Within, including how to order copies for teachers and youth services organizations, please visit Northwest Press.