Can Gun Violence and Bullying really be Handled in a Comic Book?


There have been so many school shootings in the United States that there is a Wikipedia page chronicling them all. In the 19th century there were 28 and in the 20th century there were 226 of which the most infamous would be Columbine.

The shock and outpouring of grief from that horrible massacre was so intense you may have thought it could have been the catalyst for change, but tragically it inspired a wave of copycats.

In the 21st century there have been 212 school shootings of which 143 have been in this current decade. More than double any other decade in the history of this country.

When I began writing this article, there had only been 211 this century, but then Douglas High School happened.

We can’t be desensitized to it. Something has to change, but change needs to be sparked by dialogue and this is easier said than done.

This is where the power of graphic literacy plays a part.

As the Co-CEO of Archie Comics who comes from a teaching background and the founder of the Rise Above Social Issues foundation, I was taken by its ability to address sensitive issues in a way that connects directly with students.

Statistics have next to zero impact with children, what works with them is stories and this is part of why comic books have always have a hold over the younger generation – the stories captivate and mesmerize them; so I wanted to take this influence and use it to educate and inspire in a manner that is significantly more potent than any other media.

When I floated the idea under my foundation in 2015 I received push-back that it wouldn’t be appropriate for school-children, but before I could formulate a response there was another shooting. My natural internal dedication to teaching pushed me to utilizing graphic literacy as whatever was in place clearly wasn’t working. So eschewing the approval of others I moved forward.

See Something, Say Something is an eight-page comic book that tells an all too familiar story of a kid who is just a tad different – in this case he is new at school, bullied and who would like to seek revenge via violence. The underlying message is that we can no longer be bystanders. If we see something we must say something otherwise who knows where the chain reaction of bullying is going to end up?

Nikolas Cruz, the shooter at Douglas High said “how tired he was of everyone picking on him and the staff doing nothing about it.”

His online profiles were filled with messages about shooting people and killing them.

How could it be that classmates predicted and joked about Nikolas Cruz shooting kids at the school and no-one did anything about it? He posted about being a professional school shooter!

Bullying leaves a cyclone of destruction in its wake and what for? Because someone is different in some way? Humans are complex creatures — every single person is the same and every single person is different. We all want to be loved, respected and have our feelings considered but yet we’re all individuals who want our differences to be appreciated.

The irony of the bully is that the supposed reason for the bullying is a sham, rather it’s just something to keep them entertained, at the expense of another human being. If they bullied someone for being overweight or for having red hair, you can be sure that if the victim lost weight or changed the color of their hair, they would just find something else to bully that person about. Bullying is about the desire for an imbalance of power and will try and bring that target down to the ground.

This highlights the sheer folly and futility of it. On a micro level, it has a hold over a person and can rob them of their self-esteem but on a grand scale, tens of thousands of teens and children are killed or injured every year by firearms, the economic cost of it is in the billions and psychologically it is so damaging and destructive, it is unquantifiable by any metric. Add 17 more dead to the statistics – their families and friends never to be the same again.

Victims of bullying can be more likely to engage in violent acts themselves thus creating a cycle that is spinning out of control.

We need to have a conversation with students that provides them with an increased awareness of these issues, more understanding about what fuels them and most importantly some answers on the urgency towards empathy for humanity.

No one is ever going to know of the next Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook that was averted and didn’t happen, but the fewer times that Wikipedia page can be updated the better.

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