I recently came across a comic book entitled, “Legions of Ludicrous Heroes.” It features such characters as Antisocial Man and Captain Optimist, with superpowers like being able to put their victims feet to sleep.
When you stop and think about it, most mainstream superheroes are no less ludicrous: X-ray vision? Bending steel? Capes and tights? Comic heroes are the very picture of absurdity.
Kids, as it turns out, love the absurd. If you have any doubt at all about the veracity of this statement, consider for a moment the popularity of cartoon characters such as Mighty Mouse or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Comics cater to our fascination with the outrageous—from masked superheroes and their bumbling sidekicks to the adventures in which they become entangled.
Like the creators of these characters, God has a definite knack for choosing unlikely candidates for heroism.
Comics can be an effective way to engage young people in conversations about their own potential for heroism. Using the language of cartoon characters also makes discipleship relevant and authentic.
What are the qualities of superheroes? How do those qualities overlap with the qualities of Jesus? What does it mean to be a disciple/sidekick? How can you develop you own God given superpowers to benefit others?
Members of the St. John’s Church youth group in Barrington, RI, spent last year exploring these same questions and creating their own comic book in response. The result is a ludicrous story featuring a superhero named Mr. Peace.
By day, Mr. Peace operates a factory that manufactures fake mustaches. The factory employs a cadre of smiling pigs…and one goat. Mr. Peace drives a VW bus, captains a starship, and has the power to heal and to spread peace wherever he goes.
On the surface, it is a story that is utterly absurd.
This obvious absurdity parallels the outrageous idea that God calls on US to do his work in the world. He calls us to peace and to healing and to embrace our inherent hero qualities.
So, how do you start the conversation about comics and superheroes? After the conversation, how can you turn the creativity of ideas into your own comic strip or book? Below are some suggested steps to follow when creating a superhero cartoon or comic book:
- Cultivate the outrageous. No idea is too ridiculous to consider. Brainstorm without judgment, and listen to the truth that sometimes underlies the absurd.
- Study superheroes in popular culture. Bring in a selection of comic books, graphic novels, and zines from a local comic shop. This is also a great time to show old episodes of animated films such as “Superfriends” or “The Incredibles.” To dig even deeper with older groups, check out Joseph Campbell’s summary of the archetypal hero’s journey.
- Study superheroes in the Bible. Who are the most ludicrous heroes? (Hint: You might begin in the Book of Judges.) Why did God choose them? How are they like (or unlike) the characters in comic books? How are they like YOU?
- Study heroes of the everyday. What have your young people done that is heroic? Who are their real-life heroes and why?
- Now you are ready to begin designing your own superhero.
- Identify the following characteristics of the hero you are creating: name, superpower, costume, secret identity, origin, sidekicks, weakness, arch enemy, favorite food, and slogan. You can do this as a group or individually. This is the time to decide whether you want smaller individual projects or a class project. Doing one big project can be more difficult, but is also more rewarding.
- Develop a storyline that is manageable, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Storyboards are helpful; you can find a template online or easily create your own for this purpose.
- Start drawing! One or two youth will likely emerge as your main illustrators. Another cluster can work on writing the story. Small groups work best here.
- Depending on your budget, determine whether you will reproduce your comic strip or book in black and white, color, or grayscale. For your first project, I recommend printing the pages in black and white. You can do this on any decent copier or printer using 24-lb. bright white paper. St. John’s youth created the cover in full color and had it printed on semi-gloss stock.
- Market your product. Is your comic book something you will share outside of your class or youth group? Youth at St. John’s sold copies to raise funds for a youth mission trip.
- Have fun! Set reasonable goals and expectations, but enjoy the process. The less you stress about deadlines, the richer experience your kids will have.
The rest will take care of itself as long as you and your young people remain open to the ludicrous possibilities God will offer. And God will offer them in full, outrageous abundance.
Heather Annis is director of children and youth Ministries at St. John’s, Barrington, RI and founder of Studio 35 Community Arts Consulting.
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