Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Missional Art - Lamp Post Graphic Novels

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



This graphic novel series, currently up to Volume 4, details the portion of the Bible that tells of the Babylonian captivity through Nehemiah. Told through the point of view of the prophet Zechariah and his father and grandfather Berekiah and Iddo, it breathes life into a portion of the Bible that many people skip over. Of all of the graphic novels published by Lamp Post, it is the one that is closest to the Manga Messiah series, so those who liked Manga Messiah and Manga Metamorphosis should also be interested in this. I have included a video preview below:





Above anything else, I believe this to be the defining work of Lamp Post, and it is the one I am most interested in seeing brought over to Japan. The story is an incredibly engaging take on the Superhero genre. Throughout the Bible, the name "Morningstar" remains ambiguous. Sometimes it refers to Christ, though at other times it is used to refer to Satan. That ambiguity is at the heart of this series, as the concept of "hero" and "villain" get turned on end.

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.



7 comments:

Paul Nethercott said...

Thank Scot!! Really good to find out about Lamp Post, and the way you tied it in to our concept of MIssional Art is "spot on."

If our animation studio takes off, some of this material has potential in that format.

Scot Eaton said...

An edit that I added to the first part of the article. I have a policy of not changing an article after it has been posted for more than 24 hours (aside from fixing spelling and grammar), so I chose to insert a new paragraph. I'm posting it again in the comments for quick reference:


[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.]

yuiny said...

Interesting! The Morningstar comic sounds especially intriguing as it's not quite stereotypical.
Am taking a look at the Holy Scrolls one online now :)

Avery Toves said...

Wow. I was wondering if there was anything being done about Christianity in the media as far as younger generations go. I guess this is a huge answer to prayer. I love the ideas here! Being a Christian, I often wonder about reaching the swiftly influential youth in some way, and I believe that this may be a vital way in reaching them. I thank you people that are involved for all your hard work. I will pray for you all and pray the Lord will strengthen you and your ideas so we can see this world ready itself for His coming! Exciting times these be!!!

Paul Nethercott said...

Thanks Avery for your post! And, it was good to connect with you on skype today.

I am so glad to hear that you are moving ahead with your dream to study animation -- please keep us in mind here in Japan as you move along in your journey.

Blessings on you!

Warmly, Paul

Robin said...

Good write-up, Scot. I'm sure Brett will appreciate the extra exposure, and these are some good connections to be making. Also I think it's good to point out people that are out there "getting it done" rather than always talking about this big, vague vision, or just pointing out the problem.

Anonymous said...

Brett Burner and Lamp Post Publications printed my SADHU SUNDAR SINGH and REVIVAL AMONG THE ZULUS graphic novels, available at the Calvary Comics website, along with other edifying material:

www.calvarycomics.com

The books have sold in many parts of the world and, ironically, people like the way the books SMELL, too (nice job, Brett)! More to come in the near future.

Alec Stevens,
publisher