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September 29, 2009

Comics Are My Religion: In The Beginning…

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Written by: Jeff
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My very first comic book was surprisingly not a Marvel comic, which I am known for preferring. It was Blue Devil #1 from DC. I’m not sure why this was the first comic I purchased, but it somehow leapt off the rack at the local Piggly Wiggly in rural Alabama. Looking back on it, I remember two things about this book. One, it was about demons. An actor gets blasted by a demon and is suddenly stuck in the costume of a blue devil. Not sure how that slipped past my parents, who let me buy it, but I’m thankful it did. Second, it had a character who said, “Oh my God!” which in my family was a curse. I remember thinking that I had gotten away with something as I read this book, but it immediately connected me to another world.

Later, as a teenager, I was drawn to Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, another book about demons, with a man who makes a deal with the devil to return from the dead to gain revenge on his killers. I really loved McFarlane’s art at the time, and felt it drew me to another world.

At the same time as I was becoming a full-on fanboy, I was also being drawn by my faith as a part of my church community. I am now a priest in the Episcopal Church, and so my experiences with my faith have shaped the person I have become over the years; and that process started as a teenager, as I was reading books like Spawn and many others.

My sister, who is more fundamental in her Christianity than I am, confronted me once about how I could call myself a Christian and yet read books about demons and Satan and other evil beings. I can’t remember how I responded, but I know that her question has stuck with me for years. At first, I felt like reading comics was antithetical to my faith, and at one point I decided to give up collecting. However, as years have gone by, I have felt more drawn to comics than ever, and it’s because at my core, I believe there is a significant connection between comic books and religion.

Religion, as I see it, is humankind’s way of explaining the unexplainable. It’s an acknowledgment of powers and forces greater than we are. Ultimately, I believe religion draws us to the most profound human emotion and imperative: love. No matter what faith you may be, I believe religion’s ultimate goal is to draw us closer together and  closer to whatever name we call “God.” Through religion, we gain an idea of what’s good and what’s evil, and we wrestle with the places that exist in between those two. Religion, with its doctrines and stories, at best take us from the realm of what we can see, smell, touch, taste, and hear to a place that is sacred, different, and peaceful.

In many ways, I think comic books function similarly. They provide stories and ideas that help us explain the world around us. Even as fiction, comics serve as a window to that place where we experience another world, one that is special and for many comic fans, sacred. Comics teach us about the struggle between good and evil and the many shades of gray that exist in between.

All religions have stories, myths, and legends that are amazing, outlandish, and supernatural. They attempt to explain how the universe works, how human beings connect with God and with one another, and how we may be moved to become better than we are. The same could be said for comic books. Comics have become the modern parables of a postmodern culture.

Kingdom_Come_2Once a month, I am going to be exploring many different comics and their connections to the religious world in this column. Many of these are overtly religious books, like Chosen, Preacher, Kingdom Come, or X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills; while others may be books or characters that only have threads of religious thought in them, like Maus, Superman, the Hulk, and Spider-Man. These won’t necessarily be reviews of the books, but will highlight the questions of religion that the book brings up. If you have any suggestions for books, feel free to e-mail me or post in the comments below.

While I come at this from a Christian perspective, I certainly expect and want to hear from others who are from other faiths or non-faiths. I do have some ground rules, because religion can be a touchy subject for people. First, all people and ideas will be welcomed and respected. Second, you may disagree, but don’t be disagreeable. Third, this column is not an attempt at proselytizing for any faith or denomination, so don’t expect to make converts. Finally, humor is key, so it’s OK to poke fun or be irreverent, as long as it’s in good fun.

Orthodox Christians have brought the art and spirituality of icons. Some have called these “windows to the sacred or holy.” For me, comics are icons. They open my eyes to seeing a different world–a world of amazing possibilities, powerful stories, and holy people–and I hope they’ll do the same for you.

Jeff Jackson

jeff@comicattack.net

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45 Comments


  1. billy

    Awesome article jeff. I am psyched your on board!


  2. InfiniteSpeech

    X-Men: God Loves Man Kills is one of my favorite graphic novels. Very, very good article Jeff!


  3. Kristin

    The way I deal with it is just to separate fiction from reality. It took me a while to do that, so things were kind of weird for a while. But I love literature, and I’m a sucker for a good story, and I didn’t want to deny myself a great story.

    My mother is still weird about things. She didn’t like the fact that Neon Genesis Evangelion, for example, cites Lilith as the first female. Their creation story is Adam and Lilith, and the humans are called the children of Lilum. You just have to realize “Hey, this is just someone’s fiction, they’re not trying to rewrite creation.” One of my favorite manga has bisexual, cross dressing angels (and some demons) trying to kill each other. Mom was impressed with the art (which is fantastic), but when she saw a story synopsis she started making a face…. Well, I’m sure the incest probably didn’t thrill her either, now that I think about it. Hm, I sound like a freak now…. I promise I’m not. The way it’s handled within the story isn’t vomit inducing like it is in others.

    If you get hung up on stuff, you can’t read things like Milton’s Paradise Lost/Paradise Regained, or Steven Brust’s To Reign in Hell (which is fantastic, by the way). English majors can be Christians too!


  4. Jeff Jackson

    I will definitely be covering God Loves Man Kills in my other upcoming column on here called “The Gospel According to the X-Men.”

    Kristin, you bring up a great point about fiction vs. reality. However, some struggles I’ve had in my faith is seeing the biblical text as historical fact rather than mythological or legendary stories that reveal a certain truth. I could see where some people might get hung up in comics because they play with our notions of “what really happened.” Was Eve or Lilith the first woman? Probably neither. But these stories create a metaphor for how we live today. Comics do the same thing. Did Adam and Eve really talk to snake? I don’t happen to believe so. But their story still illustrates a truth about how we are tempted, how we are created, and how we have to live with consequences. Same is true with a story of Spider-Man trying to save New York on one hand, and trying to get to Aunt May’s birthday party on the other. All of these have the potential of speaking to our own lives.

    Thanks for all the comments, y’all. I’m really excited about this!


  5. InfiniteSpeech

    actually Kristin the whole Adam Lilith thing is believed by some. I remember reading about it a looooong time ago in the library. NGE just took something and adapted it for their story the same way a lot of Greek and Roman mythology is tweaked and adapted for comics and cartoons


  6. Kristin

    No, I know it wasn’t something they just made up from nowhere. I looked up some of that stuff. Also, the commentary track that goes along with the original films is extremely informative in terms of the mythology used within the story.



  7. I am very eager to see your future articles, Jeff.

    And I had no idea your first comic was DC. I notice you’re already starting with the blasphemy!



  8. I know, Andy! Maybe that’s why I buy so much Marvel these days, as penance for that first DC book!


  9. Princess Powerful

    You’re awesome 🙂


  10. Marie

    Nice article. I look forward to future columns, as this is an interesting subject.



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  35. Dave

    Interesting concept. Also interesting question your sister posed, though I find it odd when one ask why do you enjoy comics, or horror movies, or something that they may not like. For me they are a fiction (unless they are non fiction), but it’s funny they can’t understand it while they watch fiction on TV everyday or what have you.

    I wondered if you’d read these: Hellboy, Strangers in Paradise, Harvey Pekar, Palestine, Peep Show (Joe Matt), Paying For It (Chester Brown), Stuck Rubber Baby (Howard Cruse), Eightball, Concrete, Daddy’s Girl (Debbie Drechsler), Barefoot Gen (Keiji Nakazawa), the Phoenix saga & Buddha (Osamu Tezuka), and of the stories (Abandon The Old Tokyo) by Yoshihiro Tatsumi .



    • Thanks Dave! Your first comment reminds me of a picture I saw recently of one of those Westboro Baptist Church protesters (who protest military funerals because of homosexuals in the military) who was wearing a GLEE t-shirt. When asked, she said that she borrowed the shirt from her sister, and didn’t know the show was supportive of LGBT persons. It’s funny, though, how people can separate fiction and reality in some cases, but in other cases they can’t.

      I have read a little Hellboy and Strangers in Paradise, and of course the Phoenix Saga, but the others I haven’t. You’ve given me many things to check out! Thanks!



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  42. Comics are not my religion though in my comic shop before I even opened the doors the first sign I had made was a stain glass sign: Comic Books. It’s on my “about the seller” page at ebay nder graphic-illusion and on some of my websites such as http://ninth-nebula.com. I had a specific number of panes of glass (9 and 13) around the edges. And my shop was called Ninth Nebula it was located next door to the oldest Science Fiction/Fantasy club int he world.SF and imagination being of the subconscious. Meditation (higher spiritual aspect of some religion’s or spiritual practices) being of the Super Consciousness. Comics have lots of interpretations of God and power and such. My favorite remains Eternity as Stan Lee and Steve Ditko revealed him. My latest zine graphic-illusion (no “s'”) has a picture of my version of Krishna — the Hindu God who had Christ Consciousness 5000 years before Christ walked the Earth as JC. It is a painting I did based on esoteric studies. Can be seen at my fanzine page at my website. Why are comics not my God? Because the view of God in polarity will always be too low in my opinion.



  43. Jeff,

    I’d like to catch up on all your blog posts at once. Is there any way I can get an archive of them so that I could read them off line?

    Also, I’d like to invite you to check out the Geekklesia page on FB, if you happen to do that sort of thing: https://www.facebook.com/Geekklesia



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