'Hawkeye' sign-language issue inspired by Utah teen

Hawkeye #19 featured the Marvel hero during his period of hearing loss, which writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja used as an opportunity to tell a story through American Sign Language. The issue's title page included the dedication "For Leah," and as it turns out, "Leah" is 17-year-old Utah resident Leah Coleman, KSL.com reports.

Her mother Rachel Coleman worked with Fraction on the issue. The two met through a concert held by Rachel Coleman's Signing Time television series in 2012, when Fraction related how much he loved ASL due to its visual nature. He later contacted her for assistance in bringing ASL to Hawkeye #19.

"There’s a huge fan base already for [the] Hawkeye series and for Avengers and I think this is just a brilliant move for them,” Rachel Coleman told KSL. “[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."

The dedication came as a surprise to both Leah and Rachel Coleman, who wrote Fraction upon seeing the dedication.

“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.

Released last month, the issue was praised by fans and critics; Comic Book Resources gave the issue five stars, comparing it to the Eisner-winning Hawkeye #11, which was told from the perspective of Lucky, the fan-favorite Pizza Dog.

“[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. “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. 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."

Fraction recently commissioned an "H Signs" T-shirt through WeLoveFine in celebration of the issue's release, with all of the writer's curation commission going to the Signing Time Foundation.

Coleman's Signing Time television series has aired on PBS and Nick Jr., and is available through digital subscription through the Signing Time website.

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