Wright hopes to open up the conversation about the difficult experiences that missionaries have while serving through her graphic novel
For students at BYU, mission stories are as common as chocolate milk on campus; from the Wilk to the HFAC to the ESC to the JSB, there’s sure to be at least a few people discussing the experiences they had while wearing the black name tag and sharing their testimonies.
More often than not, these experiences shared with others focus on the miracles of missionary work: the moments when someone accepted the invitation to baptism, welcomed the missionaries into their home or overcame an addiction. These stories, however, rarely address the shadows that followed the sunshine of these moments of miracles—struggles with mental health, with companions, with emotional health, with faith or other difficulties of missionary life.
Illustration senior Anna Wright aims to change that conversation.
At the 2022 Illustration BFA show, Wright displayed her capstone project Apos, a graphic novel illustrating her own mission experiences.
“Apos is a graphic novel exploring the journey of a young missionary, offering vignettes into her struggles with companions, developing anxiety and navigating her faith,” said Wright.
The inspiration to tell her mission story came after Wright went through her mission journals—all six of them—and she saw how nuanced and complex her mission experiences were. Wright noticed that her feelings about her mission experiences, both the uplifting and difficult ones, have been particularly challenging to make sense of.
“That intrigued me,” said Wright. “I wondered how many others had gone through something similar, and how many people felt alone in that struggle.”
Wright continued, “Having finally reached a point where I felt like myself again and felt more alive, I wanted to share some of the journey I had gone through. It just felt … right. Like it was time. And I didn’t want people to feel like they were alone.”
In the gallery exhibit, Wright displayed a few of the pages from her graphic novel. The scenes depict missionaries walking in the street, speaking with investigators and having personal conversations. In one scene, Wright depicts herself writing in her journal with a cloud of anxious thoughts filling up the space around her. The image communicates an experience Wright shared with other missionaries: one of diligently adhering to strict rules and schedules but still feeling inward turmoil and pressure to be perfect.
Wright hopes that her graphic novel will help others to open up about the unpleasant aspects of their mission experiences and start to heal from their wounds.
“I hope there’s more understanding and discussion all around,” she said. “When we place such emphasis on telling mission stories with miracles and blessings, I think there’s a lot of hesitation to ‘speak negatively’ … But the disciples of Jesus went hungry, they were stoned, they were afraid, they were spat upon—and those things were recorded in the Gospels.”
Wright continued, “Acknowledging pain is our first step to healing and making things better.”
One of the most rewarding parts about working on Apos, said Wright, was seeing how people have connected with her art. On the opening night of the senior BFA show, Wright said that many people came up to her and told her how Apos had resonated with them.
“Some people came up to me crying, some shared their experiences with me and a lot of people wrote down their feelings about the show,” said Wright. “I guess I hadn’t expected for it to have such a big impact, and that was overwhelming in a lovely way. Looking into people’s eyes and connecting with their stories was the best feeling in the world.”
Writing and illustrating a graphic novel is no small feat, and Wright said that the process came with plenty of challenges.
“I’ve done a few comics over the years, but nothing as extensive as this,” she said.
One challenge of writing Apos was presenting the struggles of missionary life to an audience that may hesitate to speak extensively about the negative parts of the mission experience.
“I didn’t want people to think I was attacking a faith that they (and I) held dear, but I also didn’t want to ease away from the damage that’s inflicted by our culture,” Wright said.
While the shadowy parts of missions are difficult to confront, Wright’s graphic novel emphasizes that healing from hard experiences necessitates confronting them head-on.
As Wright reflects on her work, she said she would like to turn it into a full graphic novel, with each chapter dedicated to different missionary experiences.
“This was supposed to be a stand-alone project,” said Wright, “but a lot of people have expressed enthusiasm for the project, so I’m excited to move forward!”
With her dreams for the future of Apos, Wright said that she hopes the story of a missionary navigating difficult questions and situations will resonate with others.
“I hope it’s able to reach the people that need it,” she said.