Christians & comics: defying stereotypes

Cathleen Falsani of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote a playful article last week about the Christian Comic Creators Summit at Judson College. It was a humble summit, attracting only 14 writers and artists. Falsani frequently quotes Chris Yambar, a longtime comics artist who writes for a Bart Simpson series, writes his own comic known as Mr. Beat and bears "an eerie resemblance to the Simpsons character Comic Book Guy with short-cropped hair instead of the ponytail":

During his presentation on the first day of the summit, Yambar and his irreverence ruffled feathers.

"I come from a very different philosophy of comics. I take what's called the missionary position," he said, waiting for the laugh, which never arrived.

"I'm an infiltrator. . . . When you go into a culture, you become a part of the culture. You do not remain an outsider in the culture. You learn their ways, you know what they eat, you know where they live, you know how to speak to them, you learn their language.

"I don't believe in separating the sacred from the secular. I think that breeds schizophrenic behavior," he said.

. . . "People talk about Christian comics. I'd like to see more Christians in comics. You say, 'There aren't enough good comics out there.' You know why? Christians refuse to get involved in their industry. Everyone wants to work from an outside position," he said, pantomiming water swirling while making flushing noises. "Let it go. Put on a new mind. Get involved in your culture. Get involved in your people, face first. Make it happen. Earn the right to be heard.

"Don't produce a book and say, 'Nobody's paying attention to my book!' Maybe your book stinks. Maybe you're not marketing it right. Maybe you're taking yourself out of the market before your book is even produced because you want to -- Oooh! -- be separate and be holier."

The 14 participants in the Christian Comic Creators Summit may take comfort in knowing that the highly popular Mark Millar (Superman: Red Son, The Unfunnies, Chosen) is a kindred spirit.

A profile by Peter Ross of Scotland's Sunday Herald makes Millar sound like a comic-book version of Flannery O'Connor:

I read a lot of his work ahead of our interview and was struck by the way Christianity creeps in. In both The Authority and The Ultimates, God is revealed as a hostile alien consciousness intent on the destruction of humanity. In Chosen, a 12- year-old discovers he is the second coming of Christ. Even The Unfunnies, which exploits the cute-talking-animal look of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon to tell a tale of child murder, paedophilia and a foul-mouthed duck, manages a reference to Papal policy on abortion. I ask Millar directly: "How important is your faith to your work?"

. . . Chosen, which will shortly appear as a graphic novel, is the most explicit expression of his faith yet. "I always thought the Book of Revelation seemed like a trailer," he smiles. "You had seen the first film with the Old Testament, and then the New Testament was like your Empire Strikes Back with a good cliffhanger, and I felt we'd waited 2000 years, it was about time somebody did the final part. So a sequel to the Bible was really what I had in mind."

Millar had expected the response in America, where Chosen was first published, to be hostile -- "I thought they would crucify me over this" -- but in fact it has been received the most positive public reaction of all his work. It's comparable to Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ, which was a massive hit, attracting both the deeply religious and the simply curious. Millar, unsurprisingly, "absolutely loved" The Passion and is impressed by the way Gibson has been so vocal about his beliefs. "A white, middle-class Christian is the one social group that people, for some reason, feel they can make a mockery of," he says. "So I tend to be fairly militant, not just to wind people up, but to have a little pride in where I came from, just like a Muslim or a Jew would."

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