Beliefs Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Best. Mormon. Comic.

Used with permission of Scott Hales. And Enid.

Used with permission of Scott Hales. And Enid.

In December 2013, Scott Hales finished the last chapter of his dissertation and decided he needed a break before starting on revisions. To “blow off steam” in the interim, he began creating the funny, warm-hearted comic The Garden of Enid, featuring a 15-year-old Mormon girl named Enid.

Several months later, the comic has won an Association of Mormon Letters special award for comics and built a cult following.

I love Enid, so I chased down her creator to find out more. — JKR

RNS: The comic’s tag line is “Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl.” But I don’t see Enid as weird, just real.

Hales: I think she sees herself as weird. She’s gotten a little bit more normal as the comic has progressed and has become a bit more serious in tone. But she still does some weird things, like  when she wears her fake mustache or dresses up in medieval clothing.

It’s one way of hiding. She uses  weirdness as a mask.

RNS: There’s a heartbreaking panel from a few weeks ago (3/29) where Enid finds her mom’s old scrapbook and just can’t believe that this bright, seemingly happy teenager is the same person who grew up to be a mom who is so chronically depressed that Enid had to go to foster care for two years. There’s a line where Enid says she shouldn’t have to go to her mom’s visiting teacher every time she needs a new bra. Where did you get the idea for this?

Hales: Good question. It’s not really from my own background. You know my family a little bit*, and we’re a pretty stable family unit. I come from goodly parents who have always loved each other. But I definitely always have been a people-watcher. I see that not everybody has had the background that I have. I feel that we have these situations in the church, and we don’t always acknowledge them in ways that are fair to those members.

I wanted to have Enid to come out of a difficult family situation, because it’s a way to encourage us to talk about some of the harder struggles that Mormons face, whether it’s depression or addiction or doubt. It’s a way for me to look at a kind of Mormon experience that we don’t normally recognize as a Mormon experience.

Enid vs. McConkieRNS: Sometimes we see Enid arguing with her seminary teacher, who says that she thinks too much and that “The gospel is simple . . . it’s black and white.” Were you that kid in seminary?

Hales: I was that kid, asking weird questions all the time. But I had two really good seminary teachers, including my mom. My parents always encouraged me to ask questions about Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon.

My second seminary teacher was extraordinarily good about feeding my appetite for uncorrelated material. It was through him that I was introduced to Mormon literature. He gave me his copy of Vardis Fisher’s Children of God to read, and introduced me to the world of Mormon scholarship.

RNS: We see Enid alone most of the time, or with adults from church. Does she have a best friend, or someone her age to confide in?

Hales: She’s pretty much a loner. There’s a Laurel in the ward who’s taken her on as a kind of project, and that doesn’t go over well with Enid. She doesn’t really mesh well with people.

She’s the only one who ever talks in the comics unless she’s interacting with a historical figure [like Joseph Smith] in an imaginary conversation. She’s always narrating and mediating what other people say. Everything she says about people, or the way she portrays people, is filtered through the mind of a 15-year-old girl. There’s no objectivity.

Enid vs. knowingRNS: I’ve noticed that Enid’s t-shirts are often indicative of what she’s feeling, or who she’s listening to or reading. (My favorite: “8 Cows. Seriously?”)

Hales: I think the t-shirts are one of the most popular things [about the series]. People love the t-shirts. It’s a way to engage with people and ideas I like.  Did you see the Flunking Sainthood t-shirt?

RNS: No way! Wow. I’m really touched.

Hales: There’s kind of quirky, gaggy stuff I’ll put on there just to be funny. There’s also one that says, “Remember the Revolution,” which is a reference to a Sunstone article by my friend James Goldberg. Some of them pay tribute to Mormon blogs, like her Modern Mormon Men t-shirt, which is a blog I write for.  I had her wear their t-shirt when they did a piece on her.

RNS: What has the overall response been to the series?

Hales: More positive than I would ever expect, from some very different kinds of Mormons. I think both active and ex-Mormons have responded well to it. Liberal and conservative Mormons have responded well to it, including some I would not expect. That makes me very happy.

The worst has been people who are disappointed that Enid is not a real person, and that I’m actually a 34-year-old man rather than a 15-year-old Mormon girl blogging comics.

RNS: Will we watch Enid grow up, or will she just stay a Mia Maid, like the Simpson kids are always the same age?

"Enid" creator Scott Hales.

“Enid” creator Scott Hales.

RNS: I think she’s going to have to age. There is a growth, from the snarky 15-year-old kid to something more. We’ll see that growth in the relationship with her mom and the other adults who are caring for her, and she will start to see their compassion. I think right now she doesn’t understand that the way they treat her is out of love.

But I don’t know if the cartoon is going to last that long, to be honest. I probably won’t be able to be as active a cartoonist as I have been the last few months. But I would like to see her out of high school. Maybe in my 70s I’ll go back to it and draw who she became in her 30s.

 

* Scott’s sister used to be in my ward.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

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