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COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — Hawkeye landed time on the big screen with Marvel’s recent Avengers movies, but some fans may not know the arrow-wielding hero historically experienced severe hearing loss in the comic books.
At some point a decision was made to write Hawkeye’s hearing loss out of the storyline, but a girl from Utah provided the inspiration needed for the comic’s current author to write it back in. Hawkeye 19, which was released July 30 and depicts the hero as being deaf, was dedicated to 17-year-old Leah Coleman.
Rachel Coleman, Leah’s mom, worked with Marvel writer Matt Fraction on the issue. She created the program "Signing Time" to teach families American Sign Language after learning Leah was deaf, a program Fraction used with his hearing children for early communication.
Coleman said she and her daughter were surprised to see the comic dedicated to a “Leah” on the final proof and quickly sent the author a message asking if it was for her.
“He wrote back and said, ‘Absolutely, that is your Leah. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t know any sign language. Leah being deaf is the reason this is included in this issue. She introduced our family to sign language,” Coleman said.
Coleman first met Fraction when she was in Portland for a "Signing Time" concert in 2012. He told her he loved ASL because of how similar it is to his media, comic books, since it is visual. The topic of Hawkeye came up and Fraction said he thought it was a shame the character’s hearing loss had been written out and forgotten, Coleman said.
They kept in touch, and last year Fraction contacted Coleman to tell her he had found the right opportunity to put Hawkeye’s hearing loss back into the story. He asked for her help to bring ASL to the comic book audience.
“There’s a huge fan base already for Hawkeye series and for Avengers and I think this is just a brilliant move for them,” she said. “(The comic) introduces disabilities and a new point of view, a perspective most people don’t even consider unless they happen to have a child or family member who is deaf.
“I think it opens up a world of sensitivity and understanding that you wouldn’t expect to come from a comic book series. It’s kind of delivered in a surprise package. You just wouldn’t expect to get that when you’re waiting for your favorite comic to come out.”
In the comic, Hawkeye is shown communicating with two brothers through various means. If the hero’s back is turned, the speech bubbles for other conversations in the room are blank. Other times, he is unsure if what people are saying is correct, which is represented by a question mark.
“(Leah) said, ‘Oh my gosh, that is exactly what it is like to be deaf. You know there are conversations going on and they may as well be empty speech bubbles on a page,’ ” Coleman said.
Leah said it was a great illustration and representation of what it is like for her on a daily basis. If she is not looking at somebody’s mouth or they cover it during a sentence, she misses what they’re saying.
(Leah) said, 'Oh my gosh, that is exactly what it is like to be deaf. You know there are conversations going on and they may as well be empty speech bubbles on a page,'
“It puts the reader on the other side of it — the reader now has to interpret and sort out and put the pieces of communication together to figure out what it is that is actually being communicated,” Coleman said.
“It’s a brilliant piece and in some ways we hope people are uncomfortable and confused as they read it, because that is exactly the experience many, many people have on a daily basis throughout their life when they have a hearing loss.”
The issue received critical praise and was noted by news outlets like The New York Times. There is already talk on social media that Hawkeye 19 could win the Eisner Award for single best issue, an award Fraction took home in July for another issue told from the perspective of a dog.
If the issue is nominated, Coleman said she and her daughter will join Fraction at the San Diego Comic-Con next year. Leah enjoyed attending the Comic Con in Salt Lake City and is a big fan of the TV show "Doctor Who."
Fraction commissioned an “H Signs” T-shirt with “Hawkeye” spelled out in ASL on the front. He said his curation commission will be donated to the Signing Time Foundation.
"Signing Time," which is produced by Coleman and her sister in a Midvale studio, is broadcast on PBS stations around the country. Coleman was nominated for a daytime Emmy Award as an outstanding performer in a children’s series for her role on the show.
The foundation is registered as a 5013C nonprofit group, and Coleman is currently developing a new curriculum that she hopes to offer to families with deaf children for free so they can learn ASL.
Contributing: Amanda Taylor