CHASI research assistant tackles social issues through comic book art
“I feel seen by your work.”
That is the single greatest compliment Sharon Strauss has received for her work on Our Charmed Circle, one that warms her heart when she thinks about it.
“It makes me feel validated,” Strauss says. “Like I did something good.”
A research assistant with UFV’s Community Health and Social Innovation (CHASI) Hub, the talented artist launched the Our Charmed Circle comic in February 2023 on the CHASI website. Strauss presents important social issues through the eyes of four friends – Fenix, Amrita, Mary-Jo, and Zoe – who are united by a love of gaming.
Characters face challenges related to physical and/or mental health, and sexual and racial identity. Together, the four are known as ‘The Squad,’ and they never face those challenges alone. Using her characters as a conduit, Strauss offers the comic as an accessible way to tackle difficult discussions.
“Some social issues are tough to discuss in a written article form, and there are audiences that are harder to reach that way,” Strauss notes. “In any other format, these issues might be intimidating or easily to ignore. But comics and artwork get at ideas in a way that’s easier for people to consume, like Star Trek presenting issues through a sci-fi TV show.”
The fourth edition of Our Charmed Circle finds Fenix and Zoe playing an online video game, with Fenix pulling off an amazing move. An unknown gamer they’re playing with says, “What the hell, man! That shouldn’t even work! That’s so ****ing gay.”
It’s a hurtful comment for Fenix, who identifies as non-binary and demisexual, and Zoe, who identifies as pansexual and trans(femme). For the reader, it’s a reminder that words matter.
“I put myself into the situation with my characters, and I feel what they feel,” Strauss explains. “Working on that one gave me feelings of sadness and disappointment. The person wasn’t yelling and didn’t say anything violent or particularly confrontational, but it brought down the mood. Fenix and Zoe were having fun, and it was a reminder that stuff kind of sucks.”
Our Charmed Circle’s four characters each reflect Strauss in some way. Many of their challenges have been, or currently are, her challenges. Fenix has Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as does Strauss.
“I channel all of my ADHD into that character,” she says with a laugh.
Strauss says a big challenge with Our Charmed Circle has been putting herself and her work “out there.” She’s long been reluctant to show her art to anyone.
“If a relative has any of my art and wants to take it to their house and frame it, I tell them “I will break into your house and take that back,” she laughs. “I’m always worried that maybe I missed colouring one piece of Mary-Jo’s clothing, or maybe people will read something one way and I didn’t account for that. I agonize over it, but at the same time I feel so good about being able to do this type of work.”
Having someone say they feel seen by her work makes it all worthwhile.
“For people who can relate to the stuff that happens to the characters, I hope they all feel seen,” Strauss says. “For people who don’t have connections to these sorts of events, I hope they feel a little understanding, a little ‘Huh. Interesting.’
“Maybe it gets people thinking about things a little more.”
To see Our Charmed Circle, visit https://blogs.ufv.ca/chasi/2023/02/09/chasis-comic-meet-the-squad/.