“Certainly, if you’re going to produce comics — Christian comics or comics, period — they’ve taken the right approach by going with the graphic novels,” as opposed to comic strips or more traditional short-form serial comics, says Nate Butler, president of COMIX35, an organization that trains international artists to produce Christian cartoons and comics in places such as Japan and Australia. “Zondervan has made the right call there, to capitalize on the trend.”
Indeed, combine the developing popularity of graphic novels with the growing market for Christian literature in general — and throw in the fact that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time — and you have a winning business model.
“If you went to Barnes and Noble, it used to be that there was one bay of graphic novels,” says Avery. “Now it’s huge. That’s what kids are buying, that’s what people are interested in. Zondervan specifically wanted to tap that market.”
It makes sense: Christians don’t want to do away with comics or books or music — they just want to make sure they’re created, and consumed, their way. (There are some real crazies who disagree with the concept of Christian rock entirely because pop music is evil, but they’re in the minority.)
These publishing houses are simply doing what megachurches, musicians, and Christian role models have done before: recreating popular culture in piety’s image. Rather than waste their time criticizing Harry Potter or railing against rock music, many believers are immersing themselves, and their children, in Christian alternatives.
Earlier this year, 71,414 people attended BattleCry events in San Francisco, Detroit, and Bristow, Virginia. The brainchild of Teen Mania Ministries, BattleCry is a Texas-based national organization that urges teenagers to reject popular culture in favor of a teen culture that embraces Jesus Christ. At those events, thousands of teens listened to Christian-rock music (from bands such as P.O.D. and Casting Crowns), participated in a stadium-scale worship service, and, at least in San Francisco, watched a performance by “hip-hop evangelists who use their fast feet to communicate God’s love,” according to the BattleCry Web site.
Consider, too, Steve Russo’s Wildcats in the House: Spiritual Stuff You Can Get From High School Musical, published in August by Christian publishers Bethany House. “Troy, Gabriella, Sharpay, Chad, and the rest of the gang [in the Disney musical] teach valuable lessons about peer pressure, being yourself, acceptance, and teamwork, and Wildcats in the House shows you what the Bible has to say about each of these real-life situations,” text on the back of the book explains.
“Sometimes I think we, as adults, make teaching the Bible boring,” Russo says on the phone from his house in California. “It can be fun. I believe the spiritual truth is everywhere. It’s just a matter of being able to see it through a different lens and apply a biblical filter.” Russo knows that some in the Christian community will chastise him — “How dare you find spiritual truth in a Disney movie” — but he maintains that “I don’t think something is bad because it’s secular. There are a lot of things that we can appreciate in life that are not necessarily sacred.”