Revisiting WonderCon’s “Climate in Crisis-Comics to Seed Hope” Discussion

“How do you plant seeds of hope in an apocalyptic landscape?”

The question—posed by author Cecil Castellucci—refers to the writing/creating process, but might also be applied to our present-day Earth. I’m one of approximately 20 in the audience, which includes the four panelists: Cecil Castellucci, J.R. Hughto, Mark Russell, and Sherri L. Smith. They open with a joking comment that more people will show as time progresses; we hope for a larger audience of concerned humans who are invested in our planetary well-being. Castellucci admits to the creative struggle in remaining hopeful, as it’s easier to follow a dooming trajectory. Daily news coverage of current events, environmental dilapidation, and hostilities is depressing. Thankfully, refreshing news exists to reinvigorate altruistic ambitions. In dystopian settings, such gems might include an act of care capable of reviving optimistic outlooks. No more attendees show, but these four advocates and their stories are shaking-up complacencies among much larger audiences. We are presented with the following:

Castellucci’s Shifting Earth.

Botanist Dr. Maeve Lindholm discovers a parallel, vegetation-rich Earth after encountering a sudden particle storm (deemed “The Castellucci Effect” by Sherri Smith). In this utopic landscape, Dr. Lindholm meets Zuzi, an astronomer who fights against the menacing challenges of her own Earth. Difficult decisions will need to be made by these two women, and choice action(s) will require thorough forethought. As the panelists warn, there’s always a snake in every Eden…

J.R. Hughto’s web comic, That Distant Fire.

Written by J.R. Hughto, with art by Curt Mello, That Distant Fire expresses a plausible reality consisting of violence, injustice, and self-interest where a young couple seeks to develop a device intended as a medical breakthrough. Where might their path lead in an environment that has been ransacked by poor choices and division?

Mark Russell’s Traveling to Mars.

Russell’s work prompts consideration of the Jekyll/Hyde dilemma surrounding social infrastructure. For evil? Progress for good?

Traveling to Mars reveals the experience of Roy Livingston, a terminally-ill man selected to be sent to Mars to claim its rare minerals—first. Livingston is accompanied by two (AI) rovers, Albert and Leopold, who revere Livingston despite his mundane life story. As Earth and Livingston face a similar diagnosis, Livingston’s journey leads him to more valuable discoveries.

Sherri Smith’s Avatar: The High Ground.

This multi-volume series is a prequel to Avatar: The Way of Water. Jake Sully now has a family with Neytiri, and is faced with the task of protecting the Na’vi from humans yet again. Advanced [human] technology is unanticipated, plans dissolve, and merciless militant power is pervasive. Jake and the Na’vi will need to defend life and home. A must-read for Avatar fans!

“When authoritative systems fail, communities pull together,” Sherri states.

Her mother is a Katrina evacuee, and Sherri witnesses the disorder that followed the calamity. Community is reflective in her writing. As an enchantivist, there is evidence of another depth to the community she speaks of—that which recognizes our Mother as being part of it and the gift of joy we can attain by spending time with her.

World of Pandora

She’s seen the aftermath of devastation. In her questioning what happened, answers have returned to her in meaningful phrases.

“I lived.”

“I became this.”

The two and three-word stories mirror the transformative experiences of captivating characters, whose journeys draw us closer to various revelations about ourselves as humans. Survivor. Changed, for better or worse. Capable. Redemptive and redeemed.

“We [comics and movie fans] have an addiction to heroes,” Russell suggests. Their popular, conflict-driven paths often result in something of value being acquired. Whereas the heroine’s journey reveals internal power. Sherri highlights Dorothy’s ruby slippers and J.R. Hughto agrees, reiterating, “There’s no need to wait, we’ve had the tools all along.”

One powerful tool is education. J.R. emphasizes the intersection between education equity and environmental positives, apologizing for the semi-political tangent. Later, there’s consensus that to overcome the challenge of writing stories like these is to assume critics, given that science can also be political. It’s one of the solutions offered to the challenge of putting hope back into writing. Each panelist offers further advice—

Carducci abides by the motto, “Do the thing, today.”

Russell focuses on the individual’s story, discovering inspiration in seeing how people help others survive.

Sherri writes with empathy and spotlights community; two practices she aspires her readers will enact.

J.R. imagines positive outcomes regardless of crushing scenarios.

Their creative works set an example: spark discussions, strengthen communities, encourage collective action, and generate solutions.

Please consider donating to Functional Magic, a non-profit supporting environmental advocacy through donation-based (climate activist art) screen prints.