Welcome to a new series entitled "Missional Art." In May, Paul (along with a group of facebook friends) created an article that defined and demonstrated Missional Art. You can access it HERE. This series will be written by both authors of this blog, plus a few other writers. This series will include a diverse array of examples that illuminate how God creatively communicates his love for the world through art.
We're really excited about it -- if you are interested in participating (as a writer) let us know by leaving a comment on this post.
Three weeks ago, I, Scot, was contacted out-of-the-blue by Brett Burner, owner and chief writer of Lamp Post, Inc.--a publication company based in San Diego that specializes in e-books and graphic novels. Some of their graphic novels show stylistic influences from Japanese manga, and easily fit into a new category that has arisen in the past few years: OEL (Original English Language) Manga. Though mainstream publisher Tokyopop is the leader in OEL Manga, a few Christians have added their voice to the mix. That's not surprising. Christian media has a long history of imitating mainstream media, though it's usually a few years behind and is usually a pale imitation.
That's where Lamp Post is so different. Their works surpass the "Christianized Imitation" paradigm and raise the bar for a new generation of graphic novel creators. It is no exaggeration to say that their products are the best Christian graphic novels I have ever read, and believe me, I have read a fair share of them. I can easily see Lamp Post, and Brett Burner in particular, as being for the Christian graphic novel industry what D.C. Talk was for the Christian music industry: a good product with promise of even better things to come.
[Edit (9/27/08): After talking it over with Paul, we agreed that the term "Christian Graphic Novel" and "Christian Music" were vague and potentially misleading, since the sacred/secular divide is more of a fallacy than anything. In this article, whenever I use "Christian" in regards to media, I simply mean media that is marketed towards a Christian subculture, rather than a mainstream audience. There are many reasons that many Christians choose to do this--sometimes spiritual and sometimes financial. We won't go into that here, but just to clear it up, neither Paul nor I believe that anything except people can be "Christian" in the truest sense of the word.]
When Brett contacted me, it was in regards to licensing and translating Japanese Christian manga. After establishing that such a thing doesn't exist (aside from the already-published Manga Messiah series), the focus of our conversations shifted, and I am now interested in reversing the process and bringing his products over to Japan. I think that something like this could spark a lot of interest and ideas among Japanese Christian Youth, who have no access to anything like this. A few weeks ago I finally received some copies of the Japanese versions of Manga Messiah and Manga Metamorphosis, and put them in my English School's lending library. We haven't been able to keep them on the shelves, and both students and parents have exclaimed how they finally understand the story of Jesus. We have had a lot of people asking questions about faith recently. Praise God! We need more examples of this.
In the following paragraphs, I am going to highlight three of Lamp Posts works, all written by Brett Burner. Please think about the possibilties of bringing such things to Japanese shores.
Holy Scrolls - The Origin of the Dead Sea Scrolls
This is a charming 36-page graphic novel about a boy who is stuck all day in a musuem with his parents. As he is about to pass out from boredom, a quirky old man sits down next to him and tells him the unlikely story of the Dead Sea scrolls. He awakens a love for history in the boy and tells the truth about documents whose existence has been used to make many false claims against Christianity. It's a well-drawn and cleverly written collaboration between Diego Candia (artist) Brett Burner (writer) and Dr. Pam Fox Kuhlken, a well-respected Dead Sea Scrolls scholar. But don't take my word for it. Head to this website to read the e-book version: http://www.wowio.com/users/product.asp?BookId=3287
The series begins with a group called "Hand of the Morningstar" who have all been granted superpowers by "the Morningstar" in order to relieve suffering in the world and bring honor and glory to the name of the Morningstar. And they do many good things from healing overfarmed land to saving the president from terrorist attacks. In the course of the first book, they meet a superpowered eco-terrorist named "The Tempest," who uses the powers of a storm (rain, lightning, and wind) to violently attack oil rigs, deforestation projects, and other things around the world which exploit the earth. Nevermind that he often does more harm than good. Titan, the group leader of the Hand, defeats him and leaves him for dead. This, despite being at the end of Volume 1, is where the true story begins.
The Tempest, aka Michael Tempe, washes up on the coast of Argentina, near-dead and powerless, or so he thinks. He is nursed back to health by a missionary and his daughter, and in the process becomes a follower of Christ. During a hurricane, he rediscovers his powers and starts using them for good.
The thing that makes this series so good and so relevant is the two portrayals of "good." One, used by the Hand of the Morningstar, embodies countless Christian stereotypes. This is juxtaposed with the vey real and personal faith of Michael Tempe, and it makes for a striking contrast. The following is an excerpt from an interview that Burner did with The Christian Manifesto:
Mike [the artist] says, “We need a BibleMan!” I said, “No! We need the opposite!” Whenever I see a “Christian-Superhero” story, the premise is always (I will say “typically”, but to date I have never seen otherwise) that the main character is somehow endowed with super powers by God and sent off on a mission of righteousness with these powers. My view is that we ALL are given this mission—“…to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God,” Micah 6:8. So how does that translate to a superhero such as Spiderman, the Hulk, or the Fantastic Four? Take a guy that happens to have super powers, then make him a Christian. How does he act?
And the results are great. I cannot recomment it highly enough. It has honesty, it has humanity, and it has hook. This is a perfect example of Missional Art, and I look forward to more. The Hand of the Morningstar is currently 5/8 of the way through publication. Brett assures me that the climax of the story will cover the majority of books 6-8, which will be published within the next two years. Personally, I can't wait.
Below is another video promotional. If you follow the link above to the Christian Manifesto, you can also see some high-quality images from Volume 5. Enjoy and feel free to leave comments.