Robert Luedke

Robert Luedke

Robert Luedke, from Head Press Publishing, spoke to Sight at the San Diego Comic-Con where Luedke was unveiling the most recent release in his Eye Witnessgraphic novel series, Rise of the Apostle.
     The previous two books in the series, which began in 2004, have received considerable mainstream attention from publications like Publishers Weekly, CBS and Fox. The graphic novels (hardbound, large format books with more pages as opposed to smaller, thinner “comics”) focus on the modern day adventures of Dr Terry Harper, a forensic archaeologist caught up in political intrigue, while also telling a parallel story from the Bible.
     It’s an intriguing mix that works well. In Rise of the Apostle, Paul’s life has never seemed so exciting. Like any good hero, his transformation is both inward and outward, and you'll found yourself wanting more of the rugged apostle’s tales. It’s Biblically accurate, encouraging, pretty to look at, and in places, even humorous. Fit for Bible scholars and comic book readers, Luedke’s work is obviously a labour of love.

Robert, why don't you tell us a bit about your love affair with comics. I know you worked in mainstream comics and even owned a store at one point. Why have they always been a constant in your life, as opposed to other forms of entertainment? 
"It's not that other forms of entertainment haven't also been a constant - such as movies, TV, music, pro-sports - but I would guess most people leave their love of comics behind when they get to high school.  For me the attraction went beyond mere entertainment.  I was in love with the artform itself and its potential to combine the written and illustrated word to create a story more powerful than either forms on its own.  It's that potential that I feel the industry is just now exploring by focusing attention on more than just the standard super-hero titles here in the US."

You haven't been a Christian for most of your life, but I guess that spiritual curiosity was always there, and you
found yourself asking a rather intriguing question, effectively, "Why don't I believe in God?" Tell us how you came to that place.

"I was raised in a Lutheran home and we attended church on most Sundays, but the Spirit of God never seemed to take with me.  It seemed more like a chore, another day of school, rather than something that was of benefit.  After my confirmation (at 15 years of age) my mother gave me the choice from that point if I wanted to continue to go to church.  So ended my church attendance.
 
"For the first time in my life I revisited my spiritual side at the age of 41.  Within six months I had lost my father, one of my best friends (who was the person who introduced me to my wife to be and was best man at my wedding) and a business mentor.  Those events caused me to take stock in where I was in my life, what I had accomplished and what legacy I'd leave behind for my family if I suddenly had passed.  And I didn't like the answers!  Call it a mid-life crisis, call it depression, but like a lot of men entering middle age, I suddenly felt quite rudderless and without power or pride of self, which I always had in abundance. 
 
"At this time I worked along side a number of people who were Christians and had offered many times, that when the time was right, they'd be happy to share the power of their faith to heal.  And now, as they say, the ground was ripe for planting of the seed!  Within a year I had overcome my scepticism and accepted Jesus as the resurrected Son of God and my Saviour."

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A FRESH TAKE ON PAUL's LIFE: Robert Luedke's graphic novel, Rise of the Apostle, is the latest in his Eye Witness series.

So eventually your love of God and love of comics combined. Being a self publisher isn't always an easy road. How did you know that this was the right step to take?
"Shortly after becoming a new man in Christ, (in 2000), I had sat in a Bible study called, 'Did Jesus Really Die on the Cross?' which was presented by a medical doctor.  It went through the events recorded in the Biblical description of the Passion story and using modern medical science, historical fact and archaeological discovery, provided proof of the possibility of the events occurring as written.  For example, 'It was written that Jesus sweat blood - here's how and why medical science says this could happen!'
 
"This kind of information really blew my mind and I wondered why I had not ran across it for my first 40 years.  One of my initial thoughts were, 'someone should package this kind of information in a comic-style format, that would/could appeal to younger people and maybe help them to make their leap of faith at an age where many leave the church behind'. Since I had left the comic industry at that point (two years earlier to pursue other business opportunities), I knew it wasn't going to be me.  But like the proverbial mustard seed, the idea would not leave me and kept growing within my imagination.
 
"Now something you must understand - since embracing my faith, a constant part of my prayers was for God to use me, to direct me to where we wanted me within his kingdom, for I'd believed since my teen years that I was destined to do something that would make a difference in the world, now I was convinced that "the something" was in support of God's Kingdom on earth.  In December of 2002 it was made clear to me, through my prayer time, that my mission had been with me for two years and God had provided me with all the tools I'd need to accomplish it.  I was to come back to the comic/graphic novel industry and create a book that detailed the passion story for a new generation and be entertaining as well as enlightening."

Combining modern day political espionage with Paul's story as a new believer is an interesting take. Was it a
struggle to mesh those two elements in to a cohesive narrative?

 "Absolutely!  The hardest part of creating the Eye Witness books is structuring the modern day storyline to keep pace with the Biblical narrative and making sure each book has a different type of creative transition between the two time periods."

The amount of research you've put in to the books is impressive. Have you always had an interest in the military and Biblical history, or was it something you forced yourself to do in order to tell a more accurate story?
"I've always been a big fan of history and love to watch hour after hour of History, Discovery or National Geographic channels on TV.  I've always been the kind of person who needs to know not only when things happened, but why.  This was why I was such a sceptic in all facets of my life and would always keep faith at arm’s length, because I just couldn't wrap myself around enough evidence to make that leap.
 
"So I wanted to add as much historical and archaeological fact to the Biblical narrative as I could, to appeal to the same type of person I was in my teens and early twenties; curious but sceptical.  In fact, the main protagonist, Dr. Harper, is sort of an analogy for who I was!"
 

You've published three Eye Witness books in four years. Do you have another vocation that allows you the financial freedom to pursue this creative endeavour, or are you just a perfectionist?
"Well, God has provided me with the ability to take this project on.  I've been a Mr. Mom for my household, because my wife of 25 years (Sandy) provides enough income through her real estate career to cover our home expenses. 
 
"When I told her in 2002, that I was going to leave the business we had operated together since 1998, and pursue this commission from God, she gave me her blessing to do so.  I've always held, that if she ever asked me to give this up and go back to a 9-5 job, I'd do so.  But God has blessed us with enough to cover our needs and allow me to keep moving forward with the production of this project.

I see production of this series as more of a ministry than a business, so I share the thoughts expressed by Paul from his First letter to the church at Corinth, when he says, 'I am a soldier of the Lord, but a soldier who has served without pay'.  That being said, if the Eye Witness books produce a profit over their production costs I certainly would not object, but like Paul my getting paid is secondary to the potential to my work spreading the Gospel... "So that by all possible means, I might save some." (1 corn 9:22)."

You've received acclaim from both Christian and secular press. Has that level of interest surprised you at all, and how have those two worlds differed in their responses?
"There are really two things that have surprised me since I began down this path.  One:  That it's been harder to get the Eye Witness books into the major Christian retail stores, than it has to get in into the secular book chains.  And two:  That what I'd been preaching since the early '90's when I was a retail store owner (that the future growth in the industry will be graphic novels) has really come to pass since I began this series.  Which I really consider a 'God thing!'
 
"Trying to market this type of book has proven to be a challenge and very much a catch-22.  The Christian marketplace naturally should embrace a book with a Biblical adaptation of the Gospels and the Book of Acts, but they are sceptical of the format of graphic novels, don't know really how to present them and are unwilling to take much of a gamble on stocking them.  Whereas the comic book market loves graphic novels and understands their sales potential, but many shy away from Eye Witness because Christianity is seen as the enemy of many of these shop owners, because conservative Christian groups have been at the centre of much of the persecution of them.  When the first book (A Fictional Tale of Absolute Truth) came out, I had offered to come into a local store owner’s shop (who I had know since the last 1980's) and do a signing.  His response was, 'I don't want a bunch of Christians in my shop'.  Nuff said!
 
"Surprisingly, the biggest surprise has been the openness to the series by the large secular book stores, (such as) Borders, Barnes & Noble (and so on). They have no issues with carrying spiritually based books - because it's been one of the areas of growth for them over the past few years - or carrying graphic novels as the growth of this category of literature is blowing any other away since 2001, with an increase of about 700 per cent." 

I know it’s your hope to bring God's Word to a new audience, or energise those of us that need a reminder of
its power. Do you have any stories from readers for whom it has done just that?

"To name a few off the top of my head...A friend of my wife shared with me, that after giving this book to her teenaged niece she agreed to start coming to church with her family for the first time.
 
"A young colorist who's worked with me on one of the books, told me that just working on the project (and seeing the narrative I was presenting), helped him return to faith after many years spent at odds with God, due to events within his family.
 
"And a pastor for an urban street ministry, had shared with me that they were using the books as a way to get the attention of young homeless people to come in to see what their unique church was all about."

Lastly, what's next after the fourth book of Eye Witness is published? You have a screenplay in the works, right?
"After I complete the series, I plan on going back on remastering the first book from the bare art forward, to bring it production-wise more in line with the rest, add some additional bridging pages and prequel material and package the entire series in a collected digest format that can be easily translated into other languages and distributed to other countries around the world.
 
"I'd love to go back and revisit my first comic epic, Template, and complete the story that had ended when I left the business in 1999 and also possibly develop that property into a screenplay.  I also have another couple of ideas for Christian themed materials bouncing around in my head as well as a few screenplays in various stages of development."
 
The 'Eye Witness' books are available through North American stores after August 13th, available for order to USA, Canada and Mexico through this webpage and available in other countries, through Amazon here.