I had the opportunity to talk to Scott Hales and ask him some questions about his hilarious and award-winning comic strip, “The Garden of Enid.” Earlier today, LDS.net published a look at the comic and its characters and discussed what is making it so popular. Below is the edited Q&A.
According to Google Analytics, men between the ages of 25 and 34 who like sports are Enid’s biggest audience. This surprises me because Enid is a fifteen year old girl who shows more interest in medieval cosplay than athletics.
When I write and draw an Enid comic, I try to have her speak to as many Mormons as possible, but especially those who are struggling with their faith or ill-at-ease in the community. But also I think she works just as well with those who are firm in the faith. My belief is that all Mormons have a bit of Enid in them.
I’ve been drawing comics since I was eight, but I’ve been hard at work on a bachelors, masters, and PhD in English, so I haven’t had a lot of time to draw. A few years ago, I watched a YouTube video of the comic book artist Jim Lee drawing Batman on his iPad, and I thought it was the coolest thing.
Once I got an iPad of my own, I started doodling again and that eventually led to Enid. She was “born,” so to speak, just after I finished the rough draft of my dissertation. I had a lot of creative energy built up from that project, and I guess I channeled it through drawing.
I had tried drawing other comics and cartoons on my iPad, but none of them grabbed my interest. As soon as I drew the first Enid comic, I knew she would stick. There was something about her personality that captured my imagination.
She also gave me a way to respond to a lot of the cultural upheaval happening right now in the Mormon community. Faith crises in the Church seem much more prevalent today, and I think everyone knows and loves someone who has left the Church recently over matters of history, culture, or doctrine. Enid, in many ways, began as an effort to make sense of it all.
I wouldn’t say that I’ve received any negative feedback. A few people have expressed surprise (and maybe some disappointment) to learn that Enid is not drawn by an actual fifteen year old Mormon girl. And the other day I got an anonymous message on Tumblr saying something like, “At first I thought your drawing style was lazy, but now I appreciate its nuances.” That’s the worst it’s been so far, and that was a compliment. I’m sure there are some people out there who don’t like Enid, but they haven’t come forward yet.
I think Enid thinks of herself as edgy, but I’m not sure I agree with that. I try to make her real, and sometimes being real in Mormon culture is misconstrued as being edgy. I think the closest she gets to being edgy is when she’s irreverent with Church historical figures.
But I think a certain amount of irreverence about the past is healthy. I’m a huge fan of Church history, but I sometimes worry that we set our past up on a pedestal and forget that the Restoration is an ongoing process and the early Mormons who set it in motion were just as human and fallible as we are. Having Enid interact with people like Joseph Smith, Eliza R. Snow, and B. H. Roberts is one way for me to make these icons less distant and more human (and lovable) for my readers.
Also, again, they give me a chance to work out some of the issues about our past that many members of the Church are currently struggling to get a grip on and understand.
In the Book of Mormon, Lehi teaches us that one of the great legacies of the Garden of Eden and the Fall is “opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11). Because of opposition, we experience doubt, pain, wickedness, misery, and a host of other unpleasantries that make life difficult. At the same time,
At the same time, opposition also allows us to experience happiness, love, mercy, and everything else that makes life worth living. It is also what makes free agency possible, and free agency is what allows us to choose the pathway to exaltation.
Opposition is also something that teenagers feel very powerfully. Opposition operates on us as children, but not often as a result of our own actions. Children, that is, do not act as much as they are acted upon. The situation changes when we hit puberty. Suddenly the world becomes a more real place and the consequences of our choices become more serious.
I’ve worked a lot with the youth of the Church over the last decade, and most of them, no matter how together they seem, are a mess. Like other teenagers, they are young and still trying to figure out how to cope with the full realities of opposition. Every choice seems monumental—and that can be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually taxing. That any of us survive our teenage years with any shred of sanity amazes me.
Enid is no exception. She sometimes seems to get along well enough, despite her circumstances, but she’s a mess too. She uses humor to cope with opposition. It’s probably too soon to say, but I think she’ll make it. She has a good support team—even if they annoy the crap out of her.
Comics are a popular form. People are far more willing to read a cartoon or a comic strip than a short story, poem, or dense piece of literary criticism. They convey information extraordinarily fast and some, like many of my Enid comics, require almost no immediate time commitment.
This is attractive to people in an age of constant distraction. They can spend fifteen seconds looking at a comic strip on their smart phone and then move on to something else. But still, in that fifteen seconds, they have the opportunity to read something, or see something, or feel something that lingers with them for the rest of the day and gets them to consider something they’d never considered before. There is a guerrilla aspect to comic strips that is very powerful. I don’t think we take it seriously enough.
I’ve thought about putting together and publishing a collection of Enid comics, but I want to make sure there’s an actual demand for it. I know people are reading the comic, but I don’t know if they are yet willing pay to have it on their bookshelves.
And, to be honest, I like the fact that Enid is freely available for all readers. I think it’s too early to start turning her into merchandise—although, if enough people express interest, I might put out a line of t-shirts modeled after Enid’s wardrobe. Who wouldn’t want a “Radio Free Zarahemla” shirt?