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Comic book faith


Christian comic book artist Sherwin Schwartzrock works on drawing a character for his
Christian comic book artist Sherwin Schwartzrock works on drawing a character for his "ArmorQuest" comic book in his Minnetonka, Minn., studio. last month. (Associated Press photos / The Spokesman-Review)
Associated Press

Zap! Pow! Amen!

Whether it’s fanciful tales of jewel-colored angels battling demons for a man’s soul or retellings of familiar stories from the Bible, Christian comic books are taking wing.

“Christians have the best stories to tell,” said Sherwin Schwartzrock, a Christian comic book artist and graphic designer.

“The world is full of hurting people, with drug abuse and with all types of problems that we have as human beings. Jesus Christ is an answer.”

Creating comics is a delicate balance for Christian artists and writers using a medium sometimes viewed as frivolous or tawdry.

But Schwartzrock says comics are like movies: They can spread an uplifting message as easily as an immoral one.

The number of Christian comic books has grown rapidly in the past few years. Some creators teamed up to form Community Comics LLC, a cooperative that links Christian comic-book artists and helps promote and distribute their books.

While reliable sales figures aren’t available, the number of titles has at least doubled, if not tripled, in the past year alone, said Steve MacDonald, who runs the Web site www.christiancomicbooks.net. The site lists Christian comic books and graphic novels and where to get them.

MacDonald estimates there are 40 to 50 ongoing Christian series.

Schwartzrock has adapted and illustrated Old Testament stories, including Korah’s rebellion against Moses and Absalom’s revenge against his half-brother.

Other comics use superheroes: The PowerMark series, published by PowerMark Productions of Springfield, Mo., has a hero who wears a suit emblazoned with a cross.

Schwartzrock, 35, who works at his studio in suburban Minnetonka, Minn., says Christian comics don’t get a pass with fans just because of their content.

“We have to create professional-quality stories that will stand on their own two feet and not be labeled, ‘Well, it’s Christian and God will bless it,’ ” even though it looks lousy, he said.

Among other titles is “David’s Mighty Men,” an adventure featuring King David and his three warrior companions created, written and drawn by Javier Saltares, who has worked for Marvel, DC and Dark Horse Comics.

Coming this month is “David: The Shepherd’s Song,” a retelling of the early life of the boy who became king of Israel, by Royden Lepp.

And “ArmorQuest,” written by Ben Avery and illustrated by Schwartzrock, is an allegorical tale of a boy putting on the “full armor of God” from Ephesians to battle the Dragon Prince. It’s set to be published next month.

Schwartzrock said comics can help reach preteen boys, who are attracted to the bright images and action.

“Most boys learn to read by reading comics. I was reading comics in the newspaper before I could read,” said Schwartzrock, who learned to draw while herding goats on his family’s small farm near Rollag in western Minnesota.

But kids don’t want to be preached to, he said: “If you’re going to spend $3 on a comic book and you’re a kid, you don’t want to be educated; you want to be entertained.”

Religious comics and tracts are not new. In the 1970s, Spire Christian Comics told inspirational stories of Jesus and Johnny Cash, and cartoonist Al Hartley illustrated such titles as “The Cross and the Switchblade” and a line of Christian-themed Archie comics.

Marvel Comics published biographies of Pope John Paul II in 1983 and Mother Teresa in 1984.

“Archangels: The Saga,” produced by Cahaba Productions of Houston, is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The nine-book series, featuring sword-wielding armored angels battling grotesque demons for a man’s salvation, has sold 729,000 copies worldwide in 10 years.

“Your time is short, demon. The Almighty God has prepared a place for you and your kind,” a muscular angel declares as he punches a helmeted, winged demon with a mighty “KRAK.”

“It’s definitely a ministry tool,” said 36-year-old “Archangels” creator and writer Patrick Scott. “It’s really meant to evangelize and to plant a seed of hope in the minds of people that have no hope.”

Ten-year-old Lewis Tuck of Eden Prairie, Minn., said he’s “crazy” about comic books, including Christian comics.

“I think that comic books is the clever way to give messages,” he said. “I just think it’s a cool, different way to read comics.”

His father, Mike, said he’s glad his son discovered an alternative to violent superhero comics.

“When he found these, it was like, ‘These – keep buyin’ ‘em,’ ” Mike Tuck said.

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