Christian Comic Books Still Seeking a Boffo Market
On his recent book tour, Robert Luedke skimmed four nearly empty rows of folding chairs at a Borders bookstore, hoping someone in the audience -- an audience of three -- would have a question. Or maybe, against the odds, someone would ask him to sign a poster touting his works.
No one did. One listener had grabbed a seat in the back row to read Vogue magazine. Eventually, the man spoke up.
“I have no idea who you are,” he said.
“Nobody knows who I am,” said Luedke, half-joking, half sighing.
Luedke is among a small but determined cadre of artists who hope to bring Christian-themed comic books -- or, their preferred term, graphic novels -- to a larger audience. Luedke opened “Eye Witness: A Fictional Tale of Absolute Truth,” the first work in a planned trilogy, and held it up so his audience could see his rendering of the Crucifixion.
In classic comic book fashion, capitalized words shouted above images, in this case the face of Jesus Christ wincing in pain: “CLANK! CLANK! CLUNK!”
In another panel, Jesus spoke from the cross: “Father ... cough
Christian comics have been around for decades. But, unlike Christian rock, they have yet to find a wide market.
Some Christians question whether comics are appropriate for religious content. Some apparently shy away from the genre because they think “graphic novel” means adult material. Some mainstream stores are reluctant to carry comics appealing to what they view as a small niche.
In hopes of breaking down those barriers, Luedke, of Flower Mound, Texas, came to San Diego last month as part of his book tour and to join other Christian artists at Comic-Con International, a convention dedicated to comics.
At a workshop on Christian graphic novels attended by about 50 people, Luedke said, “The goal is to bring art back into worship, just like contemporary Christian music brought music back into worship.”
The other panelists and the moderator, Scott A. Shuford, agreed that the Christian comic book market has unrealized potential.
“Any company would love to have an emotional tie to the consumer,” said Shuford, founder of FrontGate Media, which consults with companies hoping to market to Christian consumers. “And what is faith but a huge emotional tie?”
Christian artists try to reach readers in various ways.
In Royden Lepp’s “David: The Shepherd’s Song,” a scrawny boy with thick eyebrows and a mop of hair herds fluffy sheep with a shepherd’s staff nearly twice his height. In almost a silent movie format, with only occasional dialogue, the book tells the tale from 2 Samuel, in which David eventually is anointed king.
Guardian Line comics features a series set in current times called “Joe & Max.” In it, God sends Max, a muscular Latino guardian angel who wears golden wings in heaven but blue jeans and seven gold chains around his neck on Earth, to protect Joseph Julian Davis, an African American boy who wears cornrows.
Luedke’s “Eye Witness” books feature Dr. Terrence Harper, an archeologist who doubts Scripture until he stumbles across a document that scientifically proves Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Luedke said Harper is much like the author before he became a Christian: someone who believed in science more than in God.
But finding outlets for Christian comics hasn’t been easy.
Christian bookstores, authors say, traditionally cater to 45-year-old women -- unlikely devotees of comic books.
“To get them in the Christian bookstores is one of the hardest things to do,” Luedke said during the workshop. “I’ve found that it’s easier to get into Barnes & Noble than it is to get into Family Christian Stores.”
The other panelists shared similar frustrations.
“I’m not on Amazon yet or anything like that, so just keep me in prayer,” said graphic artist Robert Flores.
But a few signs point to larger publishers taking an interest in Christian comics. Thomas Nelson Inc., commonly known as Nelson Bibles, in January acquired the rights to Bibleman, a masked superhero who defeats villains such as Dr. Fear and the Gossip Queen through Scripture.
Another artist, Michael Davis, has teamed up with Urban Ministries Inc. to publish the Guardian Line comics. The publisher, based in Calumet City, Ill., focuses on serving African American churches.
“This will either be extremely successful, or it’ll die,” said Davis, who also created the popular African American cartoon superhero Static Shock.
But building a fan base isn’t easy. A day after the convention, Luedke was at Borders with his audience of three. It became an audience of one when a couple excused themselves. That left Omar Johnson, the man who had been reading Vogue.
Johnson, who teaches Sunday school at Word of Life Pentecostal Church in San Diego, said he found comics a poor teaching tool because some embellish Bible stories.
“I personally don’t use graphic novels because it’s so hard to get those images out of your head,” Johnson said. “That’s what I’ve found with the graphic novels: that they’ve added things to it to dramatize it. Whenever you go outside the confines of the word of God, you’re in jeopardy with God.”
But Johnson conceded that perhaps some graphic artists would be able to reach the young. He wished Luedke “all the best -- so long as it relates to the word of God. If He can use a donkey in the Bible, He can use anything.”
Luedke ended that night with a stack of about 50 posters still untouched and unsigned. He didn’t sell a single comic book.
“This is the part of the process that’s frustrating,” he said. “But sometimes you’ve got to do it if you want to get the word out. God will take care of the rest. He’ll get the people to read it.”