Sen. Elizabeth Warren has been a hero to progressives for years, but a whole new audience may find inspiration in her story in comic book form.
On Wednesday, Storm Comics released their latest in a series of Female Force comic books, which center around themes of women’s empowerment. The new issue focuses on Warren, who has emerged a perpetual thorn in the side of Wall Street, first as a an architect of President Obama’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and then as a U.S. senator representing Massachusetts.
“Starting from her days of going to school and being a wife and a mother and really trying to make a difference from the perspective, that a woman can really have everything, I think her story really showcases that,” Storm Comics publisher Darren G. Davis told MSNBC late on Wednesday.
The Female Force series dates back to 2008, when Davis saw that a comic book company had produced biographical issues on then-Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain. His company decided to create separate books about Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. The books were decidedly non-partisan, focusing instead on their accomplishments and groundbreaking status as prominent women in politics.
“We mostly keep them pretty much unbiased because, at the end of the day, I don’t want anyone knowing who I personally vote for, especially when we start getting into the political world,” said Davis.
The desire to sidestep controversy appeals to the Warren comic’s writer Michael L. Frizell, who also serves as director of student learning services and teaches Shakespeare at Missouri State University. “I teach at a university so I try to hold back my feelings on politics everyday,” he told MSNBC on Thursday. And while he admits that sometimes the subjects he’s asked to write about make him “a little angry” he enjoys the challenge of trying to make prominent political figures more accessible.
“It is all about pulling yourself up and taking whatever comes at you and making it work for you, spinning it towards the positive” he said.
With Warren, Frizell decided to focus on her humble beginnings and to tell the story of someone who “has managed to compel themselves to fame just through hard work.” He says he really enjoyed telling Warren’s story and was intrigued by the outpouring of reactions to the comic book project.
“It’s been interesting since the news hit, friends and acquaintances have jumped on my social media page to talk about her,” he said. “Some see her as strong woman and as a crusader, and others have said she’s the most pretentious senator ever.” One commenter even said she hoped Frizell would someday write an addendum issue, should Sen. Bernie Sanders choose her as his vice presidential pick.
“People that like her, and like Bernie Sanders, they look at and them and think ‘that could be us,” he said. “They feel like they could sit and have a cup of coffee with them and talk. It did inform how I wanted the dialogue to sound.”
Still, in the comic book, Frizell says he “stayed away from her more lightning-rod politics.”
Meanwhile, the comics have expanded far beyond politics – including biographies of everyone from Oprah Winfrey to conservative radio host Laura Ingraham. And while comic book audiences still skew disproportionately male, Davis said, “We do have a strong female readership and we’ve gotten emails from schools and libraries that really enjoy our stuff. I know a lot of people have bought them for their daughters, it feels good to get those emails.”
“As a kid I was a reluctant reader, so my dad threw a comic book in front of me and I really gravitated towards that medium, so it’s really neat to have,” he added. “Parents can give it to their kids and say this is who I’m voting for so you can understand.”
While the comic books were initially conceived as a piece of “political memorabilia,” Davis believes they could potentially be a tool for young people to get more engaged in the political process. He recalls his first conscious introduction to presidential politics was the Ford v. Carter campaign of 1976, and he would have appreciated an accessible way to comprehend the race.
Biographical comic books have been around for decades, and some have even had a historical impact. A 1957 feature about Dr. Martin Luther King’s iconic civil rights bus boycott titled “Martin Luther King and The Mongomery Story” has remained an international staple, even inspiring Arab Spring activists in early 2011. And in 2013, Rep. John Lewis partnered with Top Shelf Productions to tell his story as a two-part of a series of graphic novels, which concluded last year.
This year, Storm has already published issues dedicated to front-runners Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, which again don’t take political sides. “If you like Donald Trump you’re going to like the Donald Trump comic book, If you like Hillary Clinton you’re going to like the Hillary Clinton comic book,” said Davis. And while the Democratic candidate’s issue does allude to former President Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs, according to Davis, “We turned it around as more of a female empowerment thing – the way that she handled it – rather than making it all slimy.”
How did Davis become so passionate about portraying women’s empowerment? “I do have to blame my mother and my best friend Diana who have always been strong female role models for me. So no matter what comic book I’ve ever done, whether its fiction or non-fiction, having strong independent women has always been such a huge factor for me,” he said.
Frizell – who is part of a stable of Davis’ regular writers, which include women, too – has been an avid comic book reader since the fourth grade, but he is proud to be presenting a narrative in the genre outside of the “adolescent male power fantasy.” His hope is that young women in particular will read Warren’s story and think to themselves, “I can do that.”
“I want them to come away with something positive, a feeling of accomplishment. ‘I can follow in those footsteps, I can have a voice,” he added.
Warren herself has recently elevated herself to the status of a fictional heroine influenced by comic book culture, albeit with her tongue planted firmly in her cheek. After a conservative congressman reportedly compared her to “Star Wars” villain Darth Vader, Warren issued a fundraising statement that insisted she was more of a “Princess Leia-type (a senator and Resistance general who, unlike the guys, is never even remotely tempted by the dark side).”