The picture shows a couple of guys sitting on a park bench,
one of them surrounded by pigeons as he holds a bucket of
“Next time you see some pigeons snacking on some scraps,
remember that food comes from God,” one tells his mate.
“And God loves you more than pigeons. So don’t
worry about what you’ll eat. And don’t worry about
what you’ll wear.”
COMIC VIEW: A section of comic artist Dean Rankine's
version's of the 'doubting Thomas' story. IMAGE: Courtesy
of Dean Rankine - www.webcomicsnation.com/deanrankine/
a lot of people in Australia who don’t read
books and they’re not likely to read the Bible
(so) how else are we going to approach them?"
asks Graham Wade. "I mean, they’ll watch
telly, but they’ll also read a comic and I really
think the Gospel can be carried very clearly and very
effectively in comics.”
no biff! or zap! and no masked superhero,
but the images represent one of the latest examples in a tradition
of using comics to spread God’s word.
Their creator, Australian Dean Rankine - who has been creating
comics for the past 17 years, explains why he thinks comics
are such an effective means of communicating the Bible.
“Comics are just so 'user friendly',” he says.
“Information can be presented quickly and easily with
visual imagery to back it up. Generally speaking, comics aren't
hard to make and not overly expensive to print...(and) as
far as communicating the message of Jesus is concerned, though
people might feel a bit intimidated picking up a Bible for
the first time, they would generally feel pretty comfortable
reading a comic.”
Christian comics will be the subject of a conference being
held in Sydney at the end of next month. Aimed at Christians
who want to learn about the production and use of comics-style
literature, it will include sessions on identifying audiences,
plotting and scripting, editing, and evangelism strategy considerations.
Among those leading the seminars will be Nate Butler, president
of non-profit, non-denominational Christian comics training
and consulting organisation COMIX35.
Butler worked for 20 years as a cartoonist, commercial artist
and writer/illustrator of comics - working on characters including
Archie and Jughead, The Muppets, Popeye, Bugs Bunny, Rocky
& Bulwinkle, The Jetsons and the Berenstain Bears - before
going into full-time ministry in 1999.
His website - http://comix35.gospelcom.net/
- contains numerous examples of situations in which Christian
comics have played an important role in bringing people to
Conference organiser and veteran illustrator Graham Wade has
been working as a comic artist since the Fifties with his
works including Dr Paul White’s Jungle Doctor Fables
and Bible Society comics on books of the Bible, including
The 74-year-old Sydneysider says his fascination with comics
dates back to when he was still in school.
“I’d won a competition when I was a schoolboy
for the best comic,” he says. “When you’re
kids, you know, you live by comics and I don’t know
about you, but that’s (still) one of the bits of the
newspaper that I look at. It’s very much part of our
culture...They amuse but they can carry quite a message.”
Attempting to define why comics can be such an effective medium,
Wade likens them to movies.
“They carry a visual and you read...and it can actually
be a pretty absorbing experience reading a comic,“ he
says. “You don’t just read them, you see them
and feel them.”
While he these days enjoys Non Sequitor, Wade says
that when he was a boy, the Phantom was always a favorite
and not only with him.
“I was in New Guinea, for a while - I’ve done
a lot of work in New Guinea - and the actual Phantom was such
a star there.”
Wade says he decided to organise the conference to encourage
more Christian artists into the medium.
HUMOROUS TAKE ON LIFE: One of Phil Watson's many cartoons
from his Shaaark! series. PICTURE: Courtesy of Phil
Watson - www.onewhale.com
“I think we’re
quite irreligious, which is handy ‘cos I reckon
Jesus was pretty irreligious!” says Phil Watson.
“I think we love humour...”
want to see more Christian comics and I want to see them well
done...” he says. “There’s a lot of people
in Australia who don’t read books and they’re
not likely to read the Bible (so) how else are we going to
approach them? I mean, they’ll watch telly, but they’ll
also read a comic and I really think the Gospel can be carried
very clearly and very effectively in comics.”
By way of example, Wade says comics have been used very effectively
in reaching native Americans with the Gospel and says similar
methods could be used in Australia to reach youth, Aborigines
or immigrant populations.
“A school teacher who taught my son...had been a Slav
migrant and he’d learnt to read English from comics
and he became headmaster of a school,” he says. “I
mean, really, comics can do great things.”
Comic artists and illustrators spoken to by Sight are in no
doubt that Australians bring a unique perspective to the medium.
Phil Watson, a cartoonist who has worked on the Channel 9
TV show Burgo’s Catch Phrase and Christian
childrens’ publishers such as the Bible Society, Anglican
Youthworks and the Baptist Union and who will be among the
presenters at the upcoming conference, says he believes that
not only are stories a great way to communicate deep truths
to people - and pictures, he notes, can be used to tell a
story - but having an Australian perspective on religion helps.
“I think we’re quite irreligious, which is handy
‘cos I reckon Jesus was pretty irreligious!” says
Watson, who names Tintin, Asterix and Batman as among his
childhood favorities and landed his first big job after drawing
a caricature of a friend on his dirty windscreen. “I
think we love humour...”
Rankine, who contributes to numerous childrens’ magazines
and for the Salvation Army both in Australia and the UK, says
that while there’s not many, Australian Christian comic
artists “definitely bring a unique flavour to comics”.
“We have a particular brand of irreverent humour and
that's reflected in out cartoons and comic art,” he
says. “Also, because there's no real 'comic industry'
in this country (and no call to fit a particular mould) it
creates an environment of independence and creativity which
allows creators to basically do whatever they want.”
While Australia represents a small market for comics generally
in world terms, Nate Butler says that billions of people of
all ages across the world are avid readers of various comic
forums, adding in a recent publication that the narrative
picture stories known in the Western World as comics are “the
world’s most widely read form of popular literature”.
While in the US, the biggest selling comic titles move around
2.5 million copies a year, Butler says that in Japan top titles
sell millions of copies a week while in Korea, 7,000 new comic
book titles appear on the market each year.
TRUTHS: Artists like Dean Rankine hope to reflect
the life-changing message of Christ in their work.
IMAGE: Courtesy of Dean Rankine - www.webcomicsnation.com/deanrankine/
“Jesus came and and 'ordinary' people like you
and me followed Him. And that's what I want to see
reflected in my work,” Rankine says.
artists in Australia point to the popularity of recent films
based on comics - everything from Spider-Man to the Fantastic
Four to this year’s blockbuster Superman - as one reason
behind the ongoing popularity of comics in Western countries.
“Hollywood have certainly seen comics as a excellent
source to tap for new material,” says Rankine. “Particularly
because, like film, comics are a visual medium which also
use a lot of cinematic tools. So the transition to film can
be relatively smooth compared to say a novel or short story.
Book stores are also recognising the literary quality of comics.
With many shops now having 'graphic novel' sections.”
One of the issues cartoonists and comics artists in general
- and Christian ones in particular - have to grapple with
is that fine line between the funny and the offensive; between
challenging people and just shocking people for the sake of
Watson says that “as long as I'm honouring God with
what I do, I'll make it my goal to cross lines in order to
shatter people's myths about Jesus”.
“I'm sure I haven't crossed too many lines so far, but
I fully intend to in the future,” he explains. “I
know there's a big thing in the world these days where you
shock people just for the sake of being radical, and then
call it art. I don't agree with that. But I'll happily use
humour to try and challenge people about Jesus. When I've
fully worked out how to do this, I'll let you know!”
Rankine, meanwhile, says that while he’s “not
much of an evangelist”, he wants to use his creative
skills to help present the life-changing and revolutionary
message of Jesus to people.
“Jesus came and and 'ordinary' people like you and me
followed Him. And that's what I want to see reflected in my
work,” he says.
“I try to make my comics as original and interesting
as possible and do my best to avoid church jargon. I have
a pretty unique, 'cartoony' kind of style. And with story
titles that include God's Love is Like a Conjoined Twin,
Mighty Mega Meatman and the Pastrami of Pain and
More Angels Than You Can Poke a Stick At, I hope
that they stand out as something that people (regardless of
where they're at on their spiritual journey) would be interested
• The COMIX35 training seminar will be held at
the Mission to Seafarers from Monday 29th to Wednesday 31st
May. For further details, contact Graham Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org.