We are one interview left from #100! Today we have Alec Stevens, and you can read his bio here. Let’s jump right into the interview…
When did you first get into comics as a reader/fan?
My two older brothers had a stack of comics before I could read, and I used to love to look at them, trying to decipher what the story was. In some cases the visual storytelling was so clear that even a preschooler (which I was in the late ’60s) could get the gist of the plot. They also had some quadrinhos (Brazilian comics, as I was born there in 1965 due to my father’s military career) like Superhomem (Superman), Gatio Felix (Felix the Cat), Pepe legal (Quickdraw McGraw), and others that I enjoyed.
The first comic that I officially “bought” was an issue of Charlton’s Ghostly Tales from 1968 (what really happened was that I pulled it off the spinner rack at age three, and my father indulged my interest, paying the twelve cents for it). As an aside, he owned Action Comics #1-10 when they were brand new (1938-39), and he told me that children in those days would swap comics after reading them, but he kept these, as he particularly liked them…but he has no idea whatever became of them. Yes, I know what sort of prices those titles fetch now!
As a writer/artist/creator?
I attended the Kubert School for two years, and during my second year, in the spring of 1985, I drew one of several short story adaptations (The Sphinx Without a Secret by Oscar Wilde) which I sold to Fantagraphics Books. These saw print in their Prime Cuts anthology magazine. Recently I saw that someone had put my adaptation of Lovecraft’s The Outsider on Tumblr, calling it “a forgotten classic.” The copyright to the art is still very much mine, but I have no desire to make a fuss about the non-permissible use of it. It is work from 30 years ago which I did when I was willfully alienated from the things of God. In childhood I had received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour, but in subsequent years I slowly fell away; thank God for praying mothers! He knows how to answer prayer and to shake up the world of backsliders so that, like the prodigal son, they will come home. He did, and I did.
Why comics? What do you like most about this medium?
An aside first: comics is a misnomer if the material is not humorous. The term stuck because of “the Sunday funnies.” But even there not all of the features are comical: Prince Valiant is one of the few dramatic story strips to continues to this day. My UK friends call them “picture strips.” That’s a little better, but still a dated term: “strip” implies a row of panels, as seen in a daily comic strip, or in the traditional three-tiered strips of Sunday newspaper comics (which carried over for almost four decades in comic books before artists began to regularly alter the format). “Sequential art” is a good term, and I particularly like Bruce Bezaire’s term “Narragraphics” (which I’ve told him he should trademark). Bezaire used to write for Warren magazines in the ’70s, and drew a few issues of the Christian comic Dan Red Eagle in the early ’90s. Nowadays the term most often used is “graphic novel.” But even that seems to come with certain parameters: a single story of at least 144 pages in length. I suppose much of what I publish could be called “graphic novellas.” There’s no end to splitting hairs, I suppose!
Why comics? I think that comics have the potential to be a unique art form, a crossroads where illustration, cartooning, poster design, literature, cinema, theatre, and other influences coalesce into medium that is unique and quite apart from those aforementioned. Comics are not movies on paper! Cinema can throw dozens of images at the viewer within seconds. Comics by comparison are more of a slide show, highlighting key events in a story. But cinema has its own weakness: comics can and do vary the size of the ‘viewing screen’ with each panel, but film has the same widescreen throughout the entire feature. They are two different media.
I also like a good use of exposition in comics. Captions in today’s secular comics are a rarity, but in years past the use of third person omniscient narration was the norm (and occasionally second person which heightened dramatic tension: “You knew where you hid her body, Carl Brogan. Yes, you knew, but you’d never crack! Or would you…”). First person narration made the story quite personal, especially when done well. It’s a mistake to jettison the literary elements from comics. This is a richly multi-faceted form of visual communication, so why limit it?
Say a little about the projects you have worked on in the past, and what they were about?
In 1998 Ralph Miley of the CCAS (Christian Comic Arts Society) put together an anthology called Proverbs & Parables, and sought artists to adapt sequences from the Bible which fit the title. I was still working in secular comics (on DC/Paradox Press’ Big Book of… series) and in illustration (for The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, New Jersey Monthly, Tower Records’ Pulse! and Classical Pulse! magazines, etc.), but I had long wanted to produce material which openly glorified the Lord Jesus Christ. Ralph’s project put the thought in mind to do my own. In 2000 and 2001 several former students of mine as well as a few industry pros helped me to round out a variety of short stories and illustrations for two issues of Glory to God, a 32 page comic book featuring stories from the Bible, historical accounts, stories behind famous hymns, and modern day testimonies. A third issue was completed, but I ran into several obstacles which effectively put a halt to publishing…for a while, anyway.
In 2003 I drew a comics tract for the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago called Unshackled!: The True Story of John Hauff which details the arrest and subsequent execution of a Depression era gangster—but not before his glorious conversion to Christ and the effect of his testimony causing others to receive Christ as Saviour as well. In 2006 when I started the Calvary Comics website this was one of the first items I offered for sale on it.
In 2006 I published a 48 page graphic novella, Sadhu Sundar Singh, about a famed Indian convert to Christ in the early 20th century, and how he crossed the Himalayas twelve times in as many years (and barefoot, I might add) to bring the Gospel to then-forbidden Tibet, as well as Nepal, and throughout his own homeland. Ultimately he traveled through Europe and visited New York City and Chicago in the USA. In 1929 he mysteriously vanished on his final journey to Tibet, and to this day no one knows what became of him.
In 2007, after six years of intermittent work on it, I released E. J. Pace: Christian Cartoonist, a 250 page biography on the life and work of this great Christian illustrator and cartoonist. To this day I still assert that he was the most anointed Christian artist whose work I’ve ever encountered. Even Jack T. Chick told me that Pace’s work has inspired him in some of his more recent Battle Cry single panel cartoons. Dr. Pace (1879-1946) loved Jesus Christ with all of his heart, and was a lifelong student of God’s Word. It is evident in Pace’s cartoons that he had remarkable insights into and revelation from the Scriptures. His grandson was also pleased with the resulting book.
In 2008 I obtained permission from Erlo Stegen, director of the KwaSizabantu Mission in South Africa, to adapt his testimony into comics form, and the result is the 48 page graphic novella Erlo Stegen & The Revival Among the Zulus. It is amazing account of genuine revival which began in late 1966 and continues to the present day. Hundreds of thousands were awakened to the reality of Christ and the certainty of hell apart from Christ, and were wonderfully converted and delivered from all manner of besetting sins and demonic strongholds.
In 2009 I revived the Glory to God material, along with what would have appeared in issue three, and put it all together as an 80 page comics anthology.
That same year Bert Clendennen, a WWII vet-turned-pastor/evangelist, gave me leave to illustrate his life story and that of his latter ministry, The School of Christ International, in a 48 page graphic novella called Clendennen: Soldier of the Cross which saw print in 2010. His ministry has helped the native to reach the native with the Gospel in over 150 different countries. Time and again genuine miracles have confirmed that the hand of God was upon him and his ministry. He passed away at age 87 just as the book was going to press.
In 2011 Open Doors International, the ministry of Brother Andrew, allowed me to reprint a 1977 comic book drawn by the Redondo Studio called Marx, Lenin, Mao, & Christ which compares and contrasts the Gospel with the false tenets of Socialism, Communism, and Maoism. Nestor Redondo was the head of the art studio and also the Philippines’ foremost artist in comics. Best of all, he was won to Christ more than a decade before his passing into glory. I added a few more pages of relevant material to MLMC, expanding it into a 48 page graphic novella.
That same year I published the 450 page volume From Puddle to Paradise?, the collected writings of Rev. B. H. Shadduck, PhD with single panel cartoons by F. W. Alden and others, all from 1924-48. Its chief emphasis is creation vs. evolution, as well as fundamentalism vs. modernism—-controversies which caused many to fall away from the faith in the early to mid 20th century. The present era is one termed post-modern by secular pundits, but the roots of much of the present heresy can be traced back to the battles waged in Shadduck’s day. He was a witty, penetrating author with a keen insight and irony that rivaled Mark Twain and O. Henry, but tempered with a knowledge and reverence of God’s Word and ways.
In 2011 I released only one item, a poster drawn by W. J. Dittmar in the 1930s called The Road from Earth to Heaven. Even though some of the elements (cars, biplanes, blimps) are dated, the message is timeless and Dittmar’s ingenious visual layout beautifully displays the consequences of sin and disobedience, or a forsaking thereof for the grace of God and empowerment of the Holy Spirit to do what is right.
For years I have enjoyed the comics tract The Dave Roever Story packaged by Nate Butler of COMIX35 and drawn by Kerry Gammill and Carlos Garzon. Recently it came to my attention that Roever’s ministry no longer offers it for sale, so I gained permission from them to do so, and added it in May, 2015 to the roster of Calvary Comics titles. Roever was severely injured in Vietnam, but his tragedy was turned into an amazing triumph as God spared his life and gave him a ministry across the world that showed how, even if broken or marred in body, one can be healed in spirit which is the far greater miracle. Yes, God can and does heal bodies, even to this day, but like the apostle Paul we can boast in our infirmities that the power of God may rest upon us (2 Corinthians 12:9). This is evidenced in Dave Roever’s life and ministry, and it is an undeniable beauty of holiness that melts even the hardest hearts.
What project(s) are you currently working on?
I have written a sequel to the E. J. Pace
book which, God-willing, will see print this year (2015). All of his artwork is unique to this book; none of the images appeared in the prior Pace volume that I published in 2007. And as for the text, it is made up of sermonettes, mostly by Dr. Pace, but a few others by leading evangelicals of his day, all relevant to the drawings which they accompany. I have found it to be personally very edifying, and look forward to sharing this material with others when the book sees print.
At present I am working on another comics anthology in the vein of Glory to God
, featuring stories from the Bible, historical accounts, and modern day testimonies. Some of the featured items are the testimonies of St. Patrick (from his own writings – he was truly a born again follower of Christ and never professed alliance with Roman Catholicism as later authors attempt to allege) and George Washington Carver (yes, the scientist who saved the South from ruin by teaching farmers to rotate crops as well as finding over 300 commercial uses for the peanut; he was a humble man of God who always opened his day with probing prayer and Bible study). Aside from my own illustration work in this book are contributions from other superb artists (both living and deceased) such as Todd Tennant, Frank Beard, Jack Hamm, Vaughn Shoemaker, and Nestor Redondo. This anthology won’t likely see print until spring 2016, but if I can get it out sooner I certainly will!
What format(s) do you prefer for telling your stories (e.g., on-going series, mini-series, one-shot, graphic novel, etc.) and why?
All of my published works have been “one shots,” but being true stories which glorify our Lord they have a distinct continuity, even though the ‘cast of characters’ are from around the world and from different cultures and time periods—nonetheless it is the same Lord working wonders in and through His followers that I find most intriguing. As such, these books have an indefinite ‘shelf life’ which bodes well for a line of books which, should the Lord tarry in coming, could go on for several decades.
What sources of information and inspiration have helped you along the way?
The Bible which is the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit Who leads us into all truth. The testimonies of our predecessors and contemporaries in the faith only confirm what the Scriptures have revealed. I have studied the works of the earthly ‘masters’ of art, literature, film, music, etc., and there is an undeniable benefit in that, and have diligently honed the God-given talents in my possession through countless hours of practice, before and during my professional career these past 30 years, but in the end the Lord Himself says to His children: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you” (Psalm 32:8). There are moments when it is evident that His hand is upon me as I prayerfully work on things that bring praise to His name, and those times of revelation are very exciting and deeply assuring. The reality for the follower of Christ, of course, is that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), but when we are attuned to His manifest presence—that is a place of renewed joy.
How have you been able to communicate your faith through your project(s)? What has that process been like? How has it evolved over the years?
God gives a holy boldness to Christians who truly pray through to victory, who trust their Saviour, and spend time in His Word, heeding both His promises and warnings. With genuine anointing it is easy to testify of the reality of Christ in my own life—all self-consciousness falls aside, as it is not for my sake that I give utterance, but for His glory and for the edification of others. For a Christian who is not walking in the Spirit, but is backsliding/compromising the following verse comes to pass: “A righteous man who falters before the wicked is like a murky spring or a polluted well” (Proverbs 25:26). That’s a terrible place to be: knowing the truth, but not having the power and presence of God to share it with genuine unction. “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God…” (Ephesians 4:30
); “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19
). These are important verses for Christians young and old to understand and consider.I’ve been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ for many years, and have read the entire Bible through numerous times, and continue to read it daily. As such, I had a good theological basis from the outset of working on the Calvary Comics
titles. There isn’t a word that I would change (apart from a typo, of course) in anything of my back catalogue in this publishing imprint. Yes, I have grown in Christ and have learned much over these past 15 years since my first efforts in creating Christian comics, but the basic Gospel message does not and never will change. Any deeper revelation only expands the richness of the text without ever compromising the simplicity and accessibility of its surface meaning. Otherwise, that’s how cults have gotten started which began with the Bible, but deviated from simple truth because of so-called “deeper revelation” which in fact only denied what God has clearly stated in His word.
What advice would you give to other Christians who are considering making comics?
I’ve shared this before elsewhere: as Christians we are all called to preach the Gospel, but if you’re not of professional caliber as an artist it’s not likely you’re called to draw Christian comics. The same goes for professional caliber as a writer, not to mention being theologically sound. “In a multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14), especially if they are anointed men of God who are mature in the faith and will help to keep your work from (unintentional) doctrinal error. The bottom line is this: what God calls for, He provides for. “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1). I’ve seen a lot of failed efforts from amateurs who, in their own zeal (and with a distinct lack of artistic and literary talent), fall on their faces when trying to put together Christian comics. Some have even grown angry with God, disillusioned that He didn’t “make them the next Disney,” even falling away from the faith. It is tragic. If we really pray, “Not my will, but Thine be done,” like Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane, and put our efforts—and our dreams—on the altar, we will quickly learn what is of His Spirit and what is of the flesh (the fallen, Adamic nature of man), and what is really His will, and what was our own vain concept. It is actually a place of genuine rest and relief to have that character of Christ in us: “Not my will, but Thine be done.” It’ll eliminate ulcers and wasted hours of fruitless scheming.
If God’s not in it, then I don’t want to waste time with it either—that’s another way to look at it.On the flipside, I’ve seen Christian artists of professional caliber who created comics wherein their fallen nature deeply informed their work, and that is a disturbing thing. One such artist I know of seemed to genuinely excel at (and revel in) drawing dark, demonic images which did not edify, but celebrated evil. Another Christian artist was so immersed in secular comics (professionally and as a fan) and the sensibilities thereof that he drew all of his male figures as if they were exaggerated body builders and all of his females as if they were Las Vegas showgirls with painted-on clothes. Even his own contemporaries at church chastised him about the sensuality of his work. That comes from swimming in the wrong stream, in the cesspool of worldly entertainment instead of in that heavenly river of life. Consecrated artists like E. J. Pace and Phil Saint never fell into that trap, and are a good example of the way to go with modesty in figure drawing.
Are there any future projects you are working on, or would like to work on?
Yes. I have a graphic novella that I completed in 1995-96 between professional assignments which has never seen print. It is Christian allegory which is both reverent and quite humorous. The Calvary Comics
line is exclusively composed of true stories, but I may (or may not) make an exception with this one. There is also a graphic novella that I began several years ago about a Swedish missionary and his wife in central Africa, the tragedy that followed, and the amazing turnaround of events that only God could orchestrate. I have the full consent of the surviving family to illustrate this powerful tale. Perhaps I may get back to that one in the future. The entire script is complete, as is the artwork for the cover and the first three pages. One day I would like to do a really good graphic novella on Charles Finney, a famed 19th century revivalist. Or Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission. These would not be dry, superficial historical accounts, but ones where I have really put my fingers on the pulse of these individuals (which means A LOT of time and research into even their personal writings), because anything less would do them a disservice. These were great, great men of God who changed countless lives. We need a lot more like them today! I also have an upcoming graphic novel by a UK artist slated for release in 2016 or 2017. It is already completed, but I’ll say more on that at a later date.
What is your take on the current state of Christian or Christian-themed comics?
It seems that most of the amateurs of the past fifteen years have given up, but the stalwarts keep plugging along. Jack T. Chick is the most published author in the entire world with over 500 million comics tracts distributed globally in diverse languages. Ron Wheeler continues to publish Christian comics tracts through his CartoonWorks with great results! I believe his photograph should be next to the dictionary entry for indefatigable (if you don’t know what that means, look it up). Sergio Cariello is certainly keeping busy with the very positive ‘aftershocks’ of his artwork on The Action Bible and other Sunday School material for Cook Communications, as well as the titles he has drawn for Kingstone Comics (and those which he had previously done for Zondervan’s Z graphic novels). Nate Butler holds a rather unique position with his COMIX35 ministry, traveling the world, conducting seminars to assist native Christians with reaching their own culture with the Gospel of Christ using visual media, including comics. There are a few others, but very, very few do this full-time. We have to expect that with the genuine, anointed Gospel there will be a backlash, a reproach from those who do not want to hear or consider it. In this day and age we (Christians) will never become ‘media darlings.’ Woe to the man or woman who does! Jesus said the false prophets were the ones who were well spoken of by everyone.
Almost 20 years ago I tried to get Paul Levitz, publisher of DC Comics, interested in putting out a line of Christian comics. Money talks, as you know, and I reminded him that the Christian bookstore market in the English-speaking world was (in those days) about ten times the size of the fanbase of secular comics in the western world. He perked up, but didn’t bite. A few years later he called me, asking me to write the graphic novel adaptions of LEFT BEHIND which Wildstorm (a DC subsidiary) and Tyndale House Publishers. After a season of prayer I declined, not wanting to fictionalize the events of Revelation (LB ascribes the name of Nicolae Carpathia to the Antichrist, for example). Paul said when I started my own Calvary Comics imprint, “May you find a large and genuinely interested audience.” I do believe that audience is out there, spread out across the world. Many churches would purchase bundles of genuinely edifying Christian comics and graphic novels for their youth if they knew about them. I have sold hundreds of books at a time to church groups which, once they read an excerpt of one of my books, rejoiced at its contents. The problem has been in getting this material out there consistently. In this digital age the brick-and-mortar bookstores are closing left and right, but there is the benefit of online sales, and I will eventually make my books available in digital formats (pdf to begin with) for instant purchase online. People on the internet like that kind of immediacy of transaction, having the digital product that very moment (and at a reduced price from the hardcopy format which they may opt to purchase afterwards).
Unlike the secular comics market, I’d say that there are simply not enough current Christian comics to keep readers engaged from month to month—and I’m not sure that we really need to do that. The best Christian comics are real treasures and should be regarded as a special treat, not something to be taken for granted at regular intervals like a between-meals snack, but as a cherished event which leaves the reader wanting more of God in their lives. I have no interest in being part of a ‘religious entertainment’ industry. I liken the situation with Christian comics somewhat to the Christian film industry: there are very, very few who are making inroads into mainstream theatres or private church showings, and it is an uphill battle all the way, but some of the filmmakers like the Christiano brothers and Kendrick brothers are showing a several hundred per cent increase in revenue from their modestly budgeted but very successful (on those terms) pictures. Hollywood still won’t touch them, of course, as the Gospel message is antithetical to its morally bankrupt sex-and-violence campaign, but we don’t need to go to the devil’s door for support anyway! The Lord owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10); He is our source and supply.
What, if anything, would you like to see more of in the future? What, if anything, would you like to see done differently?
I would like to see more Christians who have compromised their talents in the secular arena by drawing or writing ungodly material come out from there and genuinely repent, allowing God to use—or put on ice—their talents. My ‘day job’ is as an instructor at the Kubert School (from 1992 to the present) which permits me to work on Christian comics in my after hours. Sadly, I’ve seen a number of Christians who worked as professionals in the secular comics industry fall away and even deny the Lord Jesus Christ. There really is another spirit at work in this world, and it is the spirit of error—many deceiving spirits sent forth by the devil whom the Bible calls “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2).
I would like to see many truly anointed, doctrinally sound, Divinely-inspired Christian comics and graphic novels in the future, but I think that during this time of apostasy that a remnant is all that there shall be—and all that there needs to be, according to God’s eternal plan. “…For nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6). Remember, God whittled down Gideon’s army to three hundred so that no one but He would receive the glory when they had victory over millions of Midianites (Judges 7:7).
What is the best way for people to contact you, and to read/purchase your work?
I can be contacted via the Calvary Comics website where the books, graphic novels, comics tracts, and posters are also available.
There you have it! I hope you enjoyed the interview, and look out for #100 coming soon!