‘A healthy alternative’
For all the spiritual sameness of this new breed of Christian comics, the Zonderkidz offerings are thematically rather diverse. There’s the Manga Bible, which is what it sounds like — a retelling of the Bible, in comic-book form. (“Did you know . . . um . . . that you’re naked?!” the original sinner asks her companion in the Manga Bible’s version of the fall from grace. “Ahem! You’re naked too . . . hum . . . embarrassing.”) The Son of Samson and Kingdoms: A Biblical Epic series both depict biblical characters in historical settings. And TimeFlyz, Tomo, and Hand of the Morningstar’s morality plays aren’t directly tied to the Bible, even though the stories are presented “with a Christian perspective based on biblical values.”
TimeFlyz, as mentioned above, is about a female time-traveler who learns spiritual and moral lessons on her journeys; Tomo is the story of a young Japanese girl who moves to America and battles otherworldly, animal-like warriors, also learning faith-based lessons along the way. Morningstar follows the adventures of super-powered beings who serve a heavenly creature who may or may not be evil — a large-scale allegory of the battle between heaven and hell.Taken together, the series target three age groups of boys and girls: Tomo and the Manga Bible are aimed at eight-to-12-year-olds, TimeFlyz and Son of Samson are for ages 10 and up, and Kingdoms and Morningstar are meant for teenagers.
“Unfortunately, the current fare often exposes its readers to strong sexual imagery, gratuitous violence, and pagan worldviews,” says Zonderkidz vice-president May of secular graphic novels, only some of which are explicitly intended for children. “We created Z Graphic Novels as a healthy alternative.”
To that end, theology professors and pastors were hired as Zondervan’s “theological reviewers,” tasked with assessing the books, says May, “based on theological accuracy, clarity of message, and appropriateness for the intended age group’s faith development.”
(One can’t help but wonder how this exchange, which opens the Manga Bible’s Book of Genesis, got by the reviewers: “Okay now, listen Lord, take whatever you need. She should have a smooth complexion, big brown eyes, a cute little nose, and full red lips. . . . Oh! And don’t forget, her measurements should be . . .” “Keep it up, Adam, and I won’t use anesthesia during this surgery!”)
The reviewers then recommend changes. One TimeFlyz character used language that one reviewer thought was too reminiscent of an arcane sect of Christianity, which launched a theological discussion (ultimately the dialogue was kept as is), says TimeFlyz and Kingdoms story writer Ben Avery, a Protestant who lives in Indiana. But for the most part, Avery — who has also worked on secular comics, such as an adaptation of The Hedge Knight and The Oz/WonderlandChronicles — finds this type of work liberating. He appreciates being able to celebrate his faith in his professional life.
“I not only can be a little more blatant, I have to be more blatant about things like God and spirituality,” he says. “It’s freeing, because I get to actually say some of the things I want to say, and not have to hide it in metaphor.”