Full disclosure: I have done it too.
Is this caused by a lack of creativity? Perhaps its just a natural path that Christian comic artists will go through.
In life, I find the most overt Christians are typically hippocrates. For example the speeder that ran me off the road, with the bumper sticker "Jesus is my co-pilot". Another example: The loud Christian co-worker with the jean jacket with more Christian patches then you have time to read at work, but he is also known as a liar. Calling out sick, but posting vacation pictures on his FB page demonstrating clearly where he was.
My point is that this overt passive symbolism seems like a shield for liars and hypocrites, and people know it. So as people that trade on iconography (see: Understanding Comic by Scott McCloud) do we raise similar hackles on the back of reader necks when we do this?
On the other hand, the most sincere Christians I have met don't have stickers and patches. You know they are Christians by their behavior. Can we play more subtle, or are we stuck with the overt? Don't get me wrong the Gospel can only be conveyed overtly, but a bumper sticker is not the Gospel. Icons are not the Gospel. Can we be overt when we have them firmly in the grasp of the story?
I know this will open me to scolding, but I hope that perhaps this might be a good conversation to have.
In my opinion, the problem is Christian superheroes in general. On the one hand, you have the Son of God stripped of His full glory, meek in countenance, washing his followers' feet and likening Himself to both a lamb and some hillside shepherd. On the other, you have some ornately dressed man or woman with ultrapotential abilities flying around with a cape. And that the former somehow relates to the latter thematically or in spirit is silly. That people can critique the Catholic church for venerating the saints or liberals for barraging Obama with hero-worship, and then draw superheroes we can appeal to as liaisons for God, seems inherently contradictory.
But as to your point - I think what people find bothersome about the crosses and other symbols isn't the hypocrisy they perceive, but how hokey and trite it is. I think a person meant to embody a complex historical system of belief like Christianity (through symbols and sashses) cheapens what they are meant to represent...
I think you make some good point @Sven Jacobs. I had similar thoughts when watching the last Superman movie. People want a Superman, but they reject the humility of the God man Jesus Christ.
Okay, so is it possible to create a humble superhero? Other genres pull this off. I'm thinking Chronicles of Narnia. Although I suppose someone may argue that Aslan might suffer from some of that.
Perhaps the story of Billy Baxter might offer a pattern. He receives his powers from the gods in a subterranean chamber far from public eyes. Of course that's where any similarity ends. I think Captain Marvel stopped being much of a moralist right along with the comics industry. Not that he was ever represented those pagan gods, the way some of these superheroes try to represent Christ.
Then again perhaps they shouldn't even try, but rather struggle with the same desires and temptations of all men.
Interesting ...thinking through this helps a lot...
This is a great question, I personally don't like most of the"Christian" comics that I have seen. One reason is what you said with the hero being superman with a cross. Another reason is that the comics are poorly done.(I know that there are some good comics out there.)
The problem with comics is that we are overwhelmed with superheroes that everyone thinks that is what comics are about, so to be Christian the comic needs its superhero to get his power from God and fight against demons. That in my opinion is a recipe for failure. We try to blend outreach with entertainment.
If we want comics to be an outreach than make it a good one and give glory to God.
If we want comics to be entertainment than make it a good one and give glory to God.
The most interesting super heroes are those who struggle with themselves. Superman isn't interesting just because he can fly and smash things; he is interesting because of how he relates to those around him who are obviously inferior.
A story about a Christian superhero would be much more compelling if the hero dealt with their powers the way Christ dealt with His omnipotence. How does the Ruler of Heaven and Earth tolerate being down here on Earth among us sinful people? How does Christ restrain Himself when He has the opportunity and maybe even desire to abuse His power? How does Jesus not destroy us even thought He has a right to?
A superhero who struggled with those types of issues would be interesting no matter what outfit they wore.
Dilemma: Originality verses audience appeal. We already know that superheroes are visually engaging;… and as they wrestle with supervillains and try to relate to superfriends, their stories can be …interesting. But if you’re an artist/storyteller that wants to head off in a new direction yet you’re still trying to connect with many viewers, you still end up using time-honored emotional and visual triggers to some degree.
As Christian writers and artists strive be creatively original, they must first answer to God. Additionally they’re also aware of sensibilities and values of their brothers and sisters in Christ, and the Holy Spirit fueled desire to outreach to unbelievers in a creative and non-confusing fashion. It is reflexive for many (but not all) creators get more predictable, less creative, and stay on safe thematic ground as they place more importance on ‘getting it right.’ It’s ironic for an artist to become “type cast” by their own work and then slowly lose their creative joy.
At this point I’m going to quote from Aaron Neathery, creator of the awesome Endtown Web comic and Storyteller extraordinaire, who’s recent missive to his patrons that sheds some light on this issue:
“In all honesty, if Endtown really were just about toon-ish mutants battling eugenicist bad guys, it would have ended ages ago. I need a roadmap that helps me keep the strip moving.. not only in the right direction, but moving period. I sense that there's always something deeper, something new to be discovered, something important yet to be stated, is what keeps my creative juices flowing. I can narrow or expand the focus, shift from violent to gentle, slapstick to tragedy, and because it's all in service of that core, I can keep the strip's identity intact. It may not be for everybody, but I can assure those readers who stick with it that, at the very least, they won't be bored.”
I think a storyteller can effectively use superheroes with or without gratuitous Christian symbols, if they’re staying true to a big, gripping, from the Holy Spirit and directed by him, theme that keeps them so inspired that they persist…and continue to inspire others.
PS. A commenter brought up a cost of encouraging originality: increased amounts of amateurish, unorthodox and sometimes offensive efforts as artists try to innovate. Want to see even more creativity and originality on this site and others artistic sites? Pay the price: comment, evaluate, partner, participate.
I tend to agree, Robert, and unless the character is being used in the same vein as Bibleman, to publicize a ministry, or unless there is a specific reason for the use of iconography, we really shouldn't be using it. I cite three reasons for this statement: 1) The so-called 'Christian' people you cited above, who 'carry the flag' of faith but live a non-christian life, tend to sully the iconography and raise hackles, leaving us and the characters we create, sullied by their actions in a 'guilt by association' phenomena, much like the scandals involving televangelists back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. 2) Using the iconography of Christianity in a hero's logo without good reason tends to cheapen it or even worse, become preachy, which turns off the audience. 3) You stated that in your experiences, the most sincere believers generally don't make use of symbols but rather strive to live the lifestyle (A lesson I wish I had learned long before). It is better to have heroes who are Christians and doing what they do as a service to their savior and preaching via their lives than have Christians who are heroes for the purpose of preaching to the masses, which would again defeat the purpose. Thanks for letting me ramble.
Dear Mr. Ives:
Well said, and I agree that it is okay to be inspired by something or somebody in our work. After all, ultimately we are all inspired by Christ to write or illustrate, and I don't wish to remove the cross or any other Christian symbol from my work anymore than I want you to remove them from yours. In fact, I encourage its use in our work, but given how others have used them, we should do our best to use the symbols of our faith appropriately, both to honor our Lord and our audience. As Mr. Kirkpatrick said, the use of icons can be a two edged sword. I may be way off base here, but I've dealt with people who have 'hidden behind the Bible', claiming to be a Christian when they were anything but and I've seen the harm they did, so I'm maybe overly cautious.
Not a problem and no offense taken. God Bless you.
I'm new to this site but not new to writing and creating for Christ. I don't use any overt symbolism like the cross but every single aspect of my fiction points to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Think about any story that is successful. It is because the recipe is the Word of God. Classic literature is so great because they had a Christian worldview. Good vs evil. Right vs wrong. But they understood the complexity. Paul struggled inwardly and it is that battle that makes it interesting. It is the subtlety of evil and how it poses as an angel of light, the weakness of flesh, the pits of depravity when man worships himself and the colossal power and love and light of redemption. These are the ingredients of every great story, screenplay, poem and yes, comic script. These are all lessons and if more writers and artists patterned their works on scripture, they would find a treasure trove of ideas. I don't know about you, but I am tired of mainstream media so I am making my own. I have the writing talent and the ideas but I am praying to find like-minded people who are sold out for God and who are serious about competing with the worldly entertainment that does a great job showing the fallen nature but not the grace to rescue us.
I didn't think you were disrespectful or rude at all. In fact, I found your posts in this thread delightful and positive, much like your comic books. I think the cross is a very beautiful symbol too. There are a lot of opinionated folks in the Christian comics scene Joe, and I've seen some truly ugly infighting among Christian comic creators who insist on imposing their own one true way of doing comics for God on everyone in the movement. In the end it's my opinion that every one of us trying to honor God with our stories is a blessing to somebody God loves. Always be true to the vision that God has given you, yourself, for your books Joe. For what it's worth, yours in one of titles I've had the honor to read that has been a blessing to me, truly.
May God bless you, your loved ones, and all you do, today, tomorrow, and everyday!
--- Gerry Lee
Joe Allen Ives said:
So sorry, guys. Didn't mean any disrespect. I so agree that the cross itself is just a symbol, but the reason I like to use it so much is because of what it represents (forgiveness of our sins). You can probably tell I'm an emotional person (my family sure can). And so every time I see a cross I'm reminded of what our Lord endured for us. If someone wrote a story that relied only on symbols and nothing else, I agree that would be terrible. Sorry again for sounding so rude. Take care & have a great Sunday, guys!
That's why manga/anime always appealed to me more. Far more diverse and experimental in their concepts. I just watched Beautiful Bones, all about a lady who loves and studies bones and ends up solving crimes in the process. Or Black Jack, an unlicensed doctor who can outdo any surgeon in the medical industry (the story often critiques the corruption and greed in the medical industry). There are so many avenues to speak truth with because the creation declares God's glory and precepts. There is so much to take in and meditate about the world, the corruption that interferes with God's natural order, etc. Contemplating science and the very fabric of reality.
There is SO MUCH to draw from I HOPE we do not limit ourselves to Superman clones.