My love affair with comic books

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I’ve been a nerd since before there was a “nerd culture.”[1. You know, back when kids used to beat you up for being one.] I’ve always loved comic books, sci-fi, fantasy and all kinds of stuff like that. In fact, one of my earliest memories is of one of the first comics I remember ever reading was an old issue of Marvel’s What If… series, when I was five or six. The issue was about what if Conan the Barbarian was stranded in the 20th century, I think.[2. Admittedly, the details are kind of fuzzy. After all, it was 30 years ago.]

I never really outgrew my love of comics. In fact, as I got older, I was more invested in them. My first job was in a comic shop in Kitchener, Ontario, where I’m pretty I was working for comics. Later, I decided to start making them (true story: one of my major projects in OAC English was a comic book). I eventually managed to get accepted to a private college in New Jersey, one with a special emphasis on comics (because its founder and primary teachers were all professional comic artists).[3. I never ended up going, by the way.]

When our daughter, Abigail, was born, we decided Emily was going to stay at home to be a full-time mom. I had two bookshelves full of graphic novels, plus a number of long boxes kicking about the house. Money was super-tight. So, I made a decision:

I got rid of all of my comic books. Every single graphic novel. Every individual issue.

Everything.

It wasn’t a wildly valuable collection by any means, but it did pay for our groceries for about a month, plus a couple of other significant bills. Although it pained me, it was the decision that was right for the time, the one I needed to make to honor Christ and serve my family. As a result, I stopped reading comics for a number of years after. Then, in the last year, I started reading them again, largely because Abigail is now old enough to start enjoying some comics herself and I wanted to do something that the two of us could enjoy together.

And it’s great. I still love the art form, even it’s incredibly hard to find material these days that isn’t super-sketchy, though not impossible. But even so, as a Christian, I’ve had to ask myself: how do I navigate enjoying this art form while at the same time trying to honor Christ with what I’m reading? That’s the question we have to ask ourselves about most any art medium, isn’t it? We can ask that of music, of movies, novels and television. I wonder if, to some degree, this is why so many Christians seem to only listen to Christian music, watch Christian movies, and read Christian books—the Christian bubble is easier (at least in some ways), and there’s actually a surprising amount of social pressure to conform.

But though it might be easier, it might not be the best thing, something I address in my most recent article at For the Church in the “Letters to a new believer” series:

Don’t unthinkingly and uncritically jump into the Christian entertainment bubble. Don’t have a shallow view of art. Instead, one of the best things you can do is take some time to develop a theology of art—to consider why we create, whether all we create is pleasing to God, and the need for discernment.

First, let’s think about why we create. Ignore for a moment, the question of the specific content being created. What is it that motivates human beings to be creative? Why do we write stories, make music, build and design and shape and innovate—all of which have no natural place in a utilitarian worldview? It’s simple (but not). Fundamentally, we create because God is creative. Creativity is valuable because God does it. He made all the stuff of this universe: from the tiny atoms that make up your body to the moon and the stars (Genesis 1:1-2:2). And we do likewise because we who are called image bearers of God are like him (Genesis 1:26-27). In his book Art and the Bible, Francis Schaeffer described creativity as being intrinsic to our “mannishness”—that is to our very humanity. And so because we are like God, all of us are creative to one degree or another, whether it’s with a paintbrush or a spreadsheet.…

Now, let’s think about whether all creative efforts glorify God. After all, just because creativity is intrinsic to our nature as human beings and God is pleased when we create, not every creative act is equally glorifying to him. This is, in part, because of quality. I think we’ve all seen that not all creativity is great art. When a song is poorly composed, we know it. When a book lacks a plot, we are not unaware (even if said book[s] wind up selling gazillions). When a movie’s special effects are laughably bad, we notice. And while I don’t want to diminish the efforts of fellow believers, this, unfortunately, seems to be where a lot of the material marketed toward Christians lives. There’s a noble desire to make something that is honoring to Jesus, but it all falls apart in the execution. But if something has been poorly crafted, regardless of the label, guess what? It’s not good, and therefore inherently is not as God glorifying as something that’s very well done.

Read the whole thing at For the Church.

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