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Joseph Campbell, Wonder Woman and Mythology: How the heroes journey continues to shape the new mythology, comics.

“The issue of myth and its relevance for and influence on the contemporary world seems to be an ever-growing and inexhaustible area of cultural research” (Teampau, 2015 p.140).

When we think of mythology we tend to think of giant beasts and monsters that get slain by heroes or the dealings of the world’s different gods and goddesses’ and their interactions with mankind. Stories filled with trials and tests for groups or a lone hero out for adventure, redemption, and conquest across an unknown land. Mythology is the collection of stories that link us to our past. No matter your race, your ancestors had these sets of stories that helped guide them and form an understanding of the world around them. This was done through the tales of their heroes, villains, ghouls, goblins, and gods mixed with historical events that may or my not have happened to answer the one big question, who are we and where did we come from. This is no different today, as we continue to write stories based on or including the tales of our ancestors because as Robert Joseph Campbell stated in an interview before his death, “because that’s what’s worth writing about” (Truth and Theory, 2023).

Michael Jordan, writer of the Myths of the world: a thematic encyclopedia raises the issue of the true definition of what is a myth. “The definition of fraught because the material is, by its nature” (Jordan p.VII 1993). In other words, how do you define something that is more fiction than fact. During his analysis of these stories, Robert Joseph Campbell’s published his infamous 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces which discussed his theory of the hero’s journey and became a template for writers around the world.

Today in media produced, the comic book industry thrives on creating mythologies, creating new ones by adapting existing or creating new ones to tell stories that would rival the heroes of old, a prime example of this would be DC Comics’ Wonder Woman. “Incommensurable or even apparently contradictory considerations are all contributing to the big fuzzy puzzle 141 the notion of “myth” inspires” and that’s exactly what mythology did when Wonder Woman graced her first page (Teampau, 2015 p.141).

Wonder Woman was created in 1941 by William Moulton Marston, the creator of the lie detector… is it fitting that she wields the lasso of truth? I leave you to think on that, and Harry George Peter. The amazon made her debut in All-Star Comics issue 8 published in 1941 and her own solo series which debuted in June of 1942, both printed by DC Comics. The intention behind her creation was to break the mould and to give the female audience a hero of their own. Most of the comics printed that were aimed towards a female audience were at this point tales of romance and penny dreadfuls. Wonder Woman broke barriers by challenging the “books filled with male protagonists solving problems in a traditionally male manner” (Walker and Dorling Kindersley Publishing, Inc, 2017 pp.14-15).

In Wonder Woman: The Ultimate Guide to the Amazon Warrior, prolific writer Greg Rucka; who has written for the character in two different phases of her everchanging story and history addressed why this character altered the status quo in comics in the introduction. “She is a warrior, peacemaker, ambassador, advocate. She is exiled and pioneer. She is a stranger in a strange land. She has, alternately (and repeatedly) been goddess, mortal, died, reborn, recreated, and reimagined” (Walker and Dorling Kindersley Publishing, Inc, 2017 p.7). These characteristics mentioned easily fall in line with Campbell’s stages to the his theory of the hero’s journey.

Campbell stated in this interview that “the hero evolves as the culture evolves” (Truth and Theory, 2023), which is why there are very similar versions of tales and figures. The mythologies of the world have changed repeatedly over time to help the people fit into and help make sense of the current times. The encyclopedia of Wonder Woman continues to emphasises how Wonder Woman’s story is the modern retelling and continuation of the stories that have been handed down through generations based on her creators love of classic Greek mythology so it is not surprising that Wonder Woman, Diana (named after the Roman equivalent to the Greek goddess of the hunt, Artemis) would follow in the footsteps of the heroes of her history, helping usher in the heroes journey and the new mythology in the world of comics.

Just as the myths of the world changed over time so do comics. Comics too are broken down into six eras: the Golden age, silver age, bronze age, dark age, modern age and finally the new age. Each era has a different version of Wonder Woman reflecting the era to reflect the times and continued to push the topic of female equality as well as continue her journey through the hero’s journey and its aspects.

Throughout the interview, Campbell outlines many aspects and characteristics of his theory that flow into the way the warrior has been written over her eighty plus year history. These characteristics that appear in most of the myths that help define the stages of the journey, some heroes going through one or many of them. One role the tales found in mythology took is to recount “the experiences of humans or semi- divine heroes, and touches upon the fundamental issues of existence”. Both Cottterell and Storm suggest that myths explore the large topics of the day, “which underline our present-day consciousness, expressing these profound ideas in terms of individual biographies and events comprehensible in human terms. The legends of heroes endure from age to age to age and hold our attention because they dare to go the extremes of human terror and delight. (Cotterell and Storm, 2015 p.7). Campbell expands on this and suggests that these legends endure because the hero has “found, or achieved, and or done something beyond the normal range of achievement or experience”. Campbell continues this thought by concluding that a hero is “someone who has given his life to something bigger than themselves or other than himself” (Truth and Theory, 2023).

Campbell’s characteristics of the hero’s journey include:

  1.  The Call to Adventure: The initial spark that sets the hero on their journey, either voluntarily or thrown into it. This is one key aspect of the hero’s journey and a unique one to wonder woman and comics. Steve Trevor crashes on Themyscira (Paradise Island) and a challenge is called to find a champion to aid Steve on his quest back to man’s world. Wonder Woman’s joins this challenge against her mother’s wishes and wins the right as the champion of the amazons to help Steve in the upcoming fight against Ares, the god of war
  2. Supernatural aid: Special tools gifted to the hero to aid their quest. Wonder Woman’s two main gifts Wonder woman was given was the Lasso of Hestia, an unbreakable rope that makes anyone bound in it tell the truth and bracelets that allow her to deflect bullets.
  3. Crossing a threshold, leaving behind er past as a princess Wonder Woman becomes a champion of the amazons and starts to be known as a champion for those who need help, originally in a time of her creation, where she would still be deemed inferior- a reflection of societies views on women at the time.
  4.  Tests, allies, and enemies. Initially Wonder Woman had Ares, over the years though the evolution of her story she was given more rogues reflecting the times and her ties to the occult and mythology.
  5. And finally, a revelation and atonement or return.

Many of the comic books character we know, and love feature these elements either in their origins or throughout their stories. Campbell’s theory allows us to keep these characters fresh, while still keeping their old mythology alive, and offers a framework to tell stories that will have soul and build connections with a new audience. This is more so doable with a character like Wonder Woman who has the publication history, the powers and abilities and the ties to our ancestors stories to keep her enduring the years to come, thus keeping mythology alive.


1-Walker, L.Q. and Dorling Kindersley Publishing, Inc (2017). Wonder Woman: the ultimate  guide to the Amazon warrior. New York, New York: Dk Publishing.

2- Leuthold, S. (2010). Cross-Cultural Issues in Art. Routledge.

3- Jordan, M. (1995). Myths of the world : a thematic encyclopedia. London: Kyle Cathie Ltd.

4- Cotterell, A. and Storm, R. (2015). The ultimate encyclopedia of mythology: an A-Z guide to the myths and legends of the ancient world. London: Southwater.

5- Przywalny, D. (2014) ‘Comic books as the modern American mythology’, Ad Americam, 15, pp. 117–128. doi:10.12797/adamericam.15.2014.15.10.

6- Teampau, G. (2015) ‘Comic books as the modern American mythology’, Caietele Echinox, 28, pp. 140–155.

7-Truth and Theory (2023). Joseph Campbell & The Power Of Myth (All 6 Interviews). YouTube. Available at: [Accessed 20 Oct. 2023].

How Mignola’s quest for freedom in comics lead to the creation of a new mythology.

“Am I going to just continue to shoehorn other characters into it or do I make up my own guy… so that’s what I did”. Mike Mignola, 2018.

Comic books act to both link us to our past stories found in our mythology and help to create new mythology by keeping the old alive through referencing and adaptation. Comics continue to attempt to tackle and showcase the universal, and in many cases timeless nature of mythology, a main focal point of Mike Mignola’s ongoing thirty-year saga, Hellboy. Mignola often uses his own characters- predominately Hellboy, from his ‘Mignola-verse’ to not only help guide the casual mythology observer through well-established world myths, but also uses these characters to help explain his new mythology and how it works with what we have had handed down to us from multiple generations and societies).  This is one way to show how these myths are similar to each other, highlighting the connections that even though we are all from diverse backgrounds, mythology links everyone to how we thought and continue think about the world.

In their article Comic Books as Modern Mythology, Gelu Teampau explains how mythology has always provided dramatic stories which are easily adaptable, which feature the same stories with “variants of the same major and easily recognizable mythical characters, events and backgrounds” (Teampau, 2015 pp.147).Teampau elaborates and lists the forms in which these stories can be seen in “numerous examples from high arts, such as classical literature, painting, sculpture, architecture or classical music are expectedly retellings or reinterpretations of the well known myths (mostly originating in the West’s Judeo-Christian and Greek-Roman inheritance)” (Teampau, 2015 pp.147). This is seen by these myths and legends being visible in in modern art and media, such as film, animation, video games and as this article explores, comic books. Teampau believes their inclusion in modern media allows the content to be “due to their power to influence and their ability to forge easily understandable and identifiable messages” (Teampau, 2015 pp.147).

Mike Mignola is a veteran in the comic book industry, now with over 40 years of experience, most of that time crafting his creator owned series Hellboy published by Dark Horse comics. In 2018 on behalf of the Society of Illustrators, Karen Green the Curator for Comics and Cartoons at Columbia University interviewed Mignola. Mignola stated “almost nothing about Hellboy was planned, I just wanted to get away with drawing monsters and not cars” (YouTube, 2018).

Teampau, while referencing Arthur Asa Berger proposed that we need to look at culture like an “onion with multiple layers, holding the myth (the sacred story) at its core” (Teampau, 2015 pp.142). Expanding on this, goes on to describe how each ‘layer’ adds to the myth- “This essential nucleus is covered by the historical events put into connection to that myth. A third layer comprises the elitist creations containing reverberations of the myth, covered, at their turn, by the layer of the popular culture creations” (Teampau, 2015 pp.142). Again, while referencing Asa Berger, Teampau states that the largest and final layer is built from the everyday activities which reflect the myth, the adaptation of the layers to make new mythology in fiction, i.e., comics, (Teampau, 2015 pp.142) Something Mignola has frequently drawn inspiration from.

By Mignola’s own account, his desire to just draw monsters he unknowingly had stepped into the history of comics legacy as a mythology preserver and creator. This further stipulated by the creator in his interview when they discussed his work on DC Comics’ Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, an alternate history of Batman where an 1888 Gotham City stands in Whitechapel and Jack the Ripper haunts its streets- another example of Mignola bending myth and history to create a new mythology and Berger’s ‘onion’ theory. “Coming off this, I made up my own story where I could draw what I want… how could I back to being at the mercy of someone sending me a script”. He continued “am I going to just continue to shoehorn other characters into it or do I make up my own guy… so that’s what I did” (YouTube, 2018).

With the newfound passion to break away from being bound by other people’s stories and guidelines of the publishers, the comic book Hellboy debut in 1993 allowing Mignola to peruse his love and wish to just draw monsters. By doing this, Mignola used Berger’s ‘onion’ theory and through the pages of Hellboy, blended all his loves, folklore, horror, Lovecraft, pulp fiction and of course mythology creating a new mythology and exposing an audience to tales and characters from our past in a new way. The character itself a half human and half demon summoned from hell during the last days of World War II by Nazi’s to help tip the war in their favour by Rasputin. However, while he was being summoned the Nazis were interrupted by Professor Trevor Bruttenholm, who after the confrontation took the child in and raised him as his own and taught him to be an occult detective and monster hunter. Through his story, Hellboy joins Bruttenholm’s group B.P.R.D. (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence) and is revealed to be connected to a prophecy where he is to bring upon Ragnarök- the Norse mythological name for the apocalypse.

Dawid Przywalny, in his article Comic books as Modern American Mythology suggests culture has always been a lively element, always changing and morphing with the society which used it. When a society evolves, it also changes its language structure and its cultural creations. “Old beliefs, opinions and rituals lose their meanings and become traditions without functionality” (Przywalny, 2014 p). Therefore, if a cultural‑social change happens, it must be accompanied by a mythology reinterpretation which Mignola has done by crafting an in-depth world, built by adding his own mythology and world stories to push his narrative forward, intertwining figures and groups from history such as Rasputin and Nazis- key nemesis to Hellboy throughout the series. The series also include tales and figures from a range of mythologies; Celtic, Slavic, Arthurian legends, Greco-Roman, African to name a few. While weaving this existing canon of mythology into his story he creates a diverse palette of characters and perspectives that, just like traditional mythology reflects the changing landscape that creates a more expansive and more relevant mythology.

Overall Mignola is just one example of a Comic book writer and artist who has borrowed and retold straight adaptations of the myths we pass down or altered versions to fit within his overall story. Mignola has played a somewhat unknowingly pivotal role in comics when it comes to creating modern mythology with his simple desire to just draw monsters. His works have not only created new characters that are now connected to the mythological ones we know but he has given these traditional myths a new life, at heart keeping the values and core moral intact for a new generation and showing readers how these myths and legends can act as a bridge the worlds cultures together, showing us no matter or race or place of origin we share these similar tales that help form us all, uniting us a one community.


  1. Mignola, M. and Byrne, J., 2018. Hellboy Omnibus Volume 1 Seeds of Destruction. 1st ed. Milwaukie: Dark Horse Comics.
  2. Mignola, M, 2018. Hellboy Omnibus Volume 2 Strange Places. 1st ed. Milwaukie: Dark Horse Comics.
  3. Mignola, M. and Fegredo, D., 2018. Hellboy Omnibus Volume 3 The Wild Hunt. 1st ed. Milwaukie: Dark Horse Comics.
  4. Mignola, M., 2018. Hellboy Omnibus Volume 4 Hellboy in Hell. 1st ed. Milwaukie: Dark Horse Comics.
  5. Teampau, G. (2015) ‘Comic books as the modern mythology’, Caietele Echinox, 28, pp. 140–155.
  6. YouTube. (2018). A Conversation with Mike Mignola and Karen Green. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Oct. 2023].
  7. Augustyn, B., Mignola, M., P Craig Russell, Barreto, E., Kane, B. and Dc Comics, Inc (2006). A tale of the Batman : Gotham by gaslight. New York, Ny: Dc Comics.
  8. Przywalny, D. (2014) ‘Comic books as the modern American mythology’, Ad Americam, 15, pp. 117–128. doi:10.12797/adamericam.15.2014.15.10.

‘Indie’, Friend or Foe?


“There is something magical inherent in the form of comics, in the experience of ‘reading’ a story in both words and images, combining the right and left sides of the brain, for an experience that amounts to more than the sum of its parts”. This was a passage written by Paul Gravett and John Harris Dunning, and as a reader, collector and foremost an indie creator, I could not agree more. However, overtime as an ‘indie comic’ creator myself I have begun to worder, if not only for myself but for all who choose to self-publish instead of perusing a career within the ‘mainstream’, does labelling myself a ‘indie’ creator hinder progression in the long run.


Indie in the context of comics could be defined as a comic whose creators-maintained ownership and control over their material, and one who does not answer to a boss or shareholders who are looking closely at the sale figures.

Small History of Indie Comics:

Roger Sabin in his book Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels highlights that even though comics as we know them are a product of the 19th century there are examples of sequential storytelling that predates the ‘comic book’, for example cave art from 40,000 years old, the Trajan Column in Rome (AD 113) and the Bayeux Tapestry from Normandy (c 1100).

From satirical, propaganda, newspaper strips and what we know now as a comic book, Indie comics are no new thing.  People have been self-publishing and selling their books since the silver age and early bronze age (late 60’s and 70’s) of comics. Some of the most recognisable comics started as an indie book, for example Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Paul Gravett and John Harris Dunning, who wrote the guide to the ‘Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK’exhibition held by The British Library wrote in regard to comics “like all mass media, comics not only reflect the ideologies of their times, they can also help to produce and promote ideologies, whether supporting the status quo or rejecting it. Reading between the lines, and between the panels, can become essential to understanding how different readers relate and respond to different comics”.

The main idea behind the indie movement was not only to break away from status quo of DC Comics and Marvel, but also to maintain the ability to tell new stories with new characters while retaining ownership of the work they created and not the publisher. It is possible to remain “independent” and work in mainstream if you can work for the right publisher for example Image Comics. Image was a company founded by creators for creators and intervenes on a minimal level during the creative progress, allows ownership of the intellectual property to remain with the creators and only really helps with distribution. Companies like Image are now more and more sought after, yes, the creator’s book might be published by a company, but to publish through someone like Image that does not step into the creative process and little to no control the final product, for that creator it is more about the distribution this company can offer. Something most indie books suffers from.

Does the title of ‘indie’ hinder the creator in the long run?

‘Indie’, meaning independent used as a title is now all but used as a marketing ploy in some cases like “Australian made” or “mum and pop store”. Eventually in some cases the word will lose the ability to garner any response and will possibly begin to work against the creator and the book.

When the #indiecomics is searched on twitter the predominate search result is stream of posts promoting the current projects on Kickstarter- a crowdfunding platform, so has the term ‘indie’ just become a buzz word that’s thrown around in the pursuit of sales or does it still hold meaning in an ever-growing market?

Based on three question survey, over eighty creators, comic store owners and collectors were tagged. With a reasonable number of replies I was able to gain some quantifiable data on the topic. One of the main questions asked, do you think branding your comic as ‘indie’ hinders or helps the book? Was answered by Peter Wilson, the Creator of Foes. Mr Wilson stated“Indie is a style that people seek out. It’s also a way of telling people you’re an auteur with a more niche style”. Mr Wilson elaborated “It may never attract as many sales as Batman but with the indie crowd that doesn’t matter”. Shaun Keenan who publishes a range of books under COMICS2MOVIES uses both indie and mainstream labels to his advantage. “For me I use both. When talking to a mainstream customer I talk about C2M as a publisher and the comics/graphic novels we offer” Mr Keenan continued to explain, “to people who know nothing about comics I talk about the story and don’t mention if it’s mainstream or indie and to those people who I know are indie fans I leverage that talking about the success our indie books have had. For me it’s all about knowing your market and how to sell not pigeonholing your work into one or the other”.

Upon further enquiry into the handling of indie titles, a second question was asked, do you think stores that carry books by ‘indie’ creators should mix them in and treat the book as a mainstream book? Mal Briggs, owner of Impact Comics in Canberra believes it comes down to where to draw the line and why just break out Aussie Indies? All Indies that don’t have regular distribution compared to others that do? “We’ve had those from all over the world. Stories are stories”. Mr Briggs elaborated on his stores sorting of indie stories “When racking trades and comics, we have small Aussie and indie sections, but it is always a problem, because we break out the kids stuff into the kids section, and the horror stuff into the horror section, and so many Aussies are working on big publishers… Racking Indies separately is carrying to a limited market”.

Mr Briggs posed an interesting way of looking at books, why label yourself and be grouped in a category that limits you, when being placed in the genre you create for will be helped by the more known titles of that genre. I personally would rather refer to myself and other creators as a comic creator or a publisher. I personally think ‘indie’ works against comic creators as suddenly your books value is lessened by the inclusion of the word indie, but ultimately is both up to the creator and time to tell if the phrase ‘indie’ will hinder them for the long run.

Further Reading:

  1. Sabin, R., 2005 [1996]. Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels. 5th ed. New York: Phaidon.
  2.  Gravett, P. and Harris Dunning, J., 2014. Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK. 1st ed. London: The British Library.