An Engaging Way to Share Christ: Q&A with Randy Alcorn About His Graphic Novels
Adapted from a 2014 interview with Randy Alcorn for R Squared Comics.
1. How did you first get into comics—as a reader, fan, or writer?
I grew up in a non-Christian home. As a kid, I learned to love reading through comic books: Archie and the Marvel comics among them, especially the Fantastic Four. But mainly I was a DC fan, my favorites being The Justice League of America (Green Lantern was my hero) and The Legion of Super Heroes (go, Lightning Lad). From there I dove into science fiction and fantasy.
Looking back, I’m grateful for the comics that developed my thirst for reading, because they were a “gateway” to reading Scripture and the great books of substance that have been a vital part of my life ever since.
2. What do you like most about comic books and graphic novels?
I love that they can reveal our deep longing for something beyond ourselves, and for stories that give our lives meaning. When superheroes “save the world from evil,” it’s that dim reflection of Jesus the Rescuer intervening to redeem His people. Of course He’s far more than a “superhero,” but you can’t find a greater hero than Jesus.
Coming from a Christian author’s perspective, I’m grateful that comics and graphic novels can provide an engaging platform for sharing deeper truths about God. I've given away a ton of books to countless people over the years, but I've never had one before that unbelieving young people get so animated about.
3. Share some details about your two graphic novels, Eternity and The Apostle.
I’m very excited about Eternity, which is based on Christ’s story of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke 16 and is published by Kingstone Media. While it is fiction, I have labored to make the book Christ-centered, Bible-saturated and theologically sound. The liberties I took largely involved expanding a 13-verse parable of Jesus by interjecting additional characters and a larger storyline of the gospel of grace, drawn from the whole counsel of God.
One day a few years ago I spent an hour in the huge graphic novel section of a Portland Barnes and Noble. I watched the young people come and read, sitting on the floor, captivated by the art, dialogue and narrative captions. God laid it on my heart then and there to write a graphic novel that tells a story highlighting Christ’s person and redemptive work, a story full of grace and truth, one that speaks of the eternal destinations of Heaven and Hell. The graphics took two artists (who’ve worked with Marvel Comics) fifteen months to complete. I think they did an amazing job.
The Apostle focuses on Paul, but also on his relationship with Peter. In some ways, Paul and Peter were among the very-human “superheroes” of the church after Jesus ascended to Heaven. These were real people we can admire, and read their words still today! The Apostle is based mainly on the book of Acts, but draws significantly from Paul’s letters as well. In fact, I portray Paul in the process of writing or dictating several of his letters, including Romans. I show his close relationships with Barnabas, Luke, Timothy, Titus and others, including Peter.
The biblical content of The Apostle is inspired by God. The added speculative elements are not. My design is never to contradict Scripture—only to fill out the story on these pages.
4. Is it exciting to see Eternity published in both English and Spanish, since this increases the number of readers?
Yes! I’m thrilled to see Eternity and other quality Christian comics being translated into Spanish and many other languages around the world. Most of those who speak English as a second language will read and understand a graphic novel with the gospel, but will almost certainly not read and understand 99% of other Christian books in English.
Foreign editions/translations of graphic novels can reach countless people with the gospel and are far easier to translate, largely because of the shorter word count. The art makes the words come alive!
5. What kind of comments are you hearing from youth and adults who’ve seen Eternity?
Our ministry has received some great comments from readers of all ages, including this 12 year old: “I read your graphic novel Eternity, and I really liked it. I was at camp this week and felt God working in me through the book. I loved how you portrayed Heaven and Hell in this story. This really made me wonder if I was really saved, and this week I think was the week of my true salvation. I hope that this same thing will happen to others who read this book!”
On the other end of the age spectrum, an 89-year-old reader wrote us to say, “I could not put Eternity down until I finished it!” I’m humbled and grateful that readers are enjoying the book, and pray that many will come to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ because of its message.
6. Would you like to say a little about how you’ve been able to communicate your faith through your projects?
Since Eternity’s release, I’ve attended two Comic Cons here in Portland, Oregon. Throughout both weekends my team and I met a lot of people and had some great conversations with unbelievers and believers. With its high quality art (drawn by the artist who did Ghost Rider), Eternity proved to be a great and attractive tool to hand out to those we talked with.
As for the gospel-centered aspect of the books, and kids being eager to read them, let me tell you a story. Last year I was playing tennis with a friend at public courts. Two kids were there, maybe 10 and 12. I gave them Eternity. I showed them the art, including Christ on the cross, and his resurrection. I told them the artist has done a lot of work with Marvel Comics. Their eyes were big, and they were delighted to receive it. They kept flipping through Eternity and asking me questions.
Then, there were two teenagers on the court next to us. When they were leaving, I gave one of them the book, and he started reading it on the spot, and kept reading as he walked to his car. Then the two of them came all the way back to the courts and asked me if I would sign it for him. I did just what I’d done with the younger boys ninety minutes earlier. I showed them Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, and talked about Jesus dying for our sins. I asked the other guy if he wanted a book too, and his eyes lit up as he said, "Sure!"
There's no doubt in my mind that two boys and two young men read cover to cover a book that clearly conveys the gospel of God's grace! These are kids who don't go to church, and likely heard the gospel for the first time ever. I can’t tell you how much joy that gives me!
One other story: several months ago my wife Nanci had our car at the local grocery story and it wouldn't start. After she was driven home by a friend/Good Samaritan, we went back to get it going. While I was fiddling with the car, a woman and her 13-year-old son were getting into their car in the space by us. Nanci and she chatted and I asked if I could give a book to her son. She said, "Yeah, he loves to read." When he saw it was a graphic novel, his eyes lit up. I told him the artist has worked on Wolverine and Ghost Rider. He was thrilled to receive it and said, "I want to be a writer!" We had a great chat about writing. Five minutes later our car was running. Quentin was reading as they drove away, and I'm confident he read Eternity, and saw and heard the good news of Jesus. Ten minutes earlier or later on the timing, and I would never have met them or given Quentin the book. I just LOVE those divine appointments, where God's plans are far better than ours!
7. What’s your take on the current state of Christian-themed comics? What, if anything, would you like to see more of in the future? What, if anything, would you like to see done differently?
I’ve found there’s a common stereotype among believers that a graphic novel is inherently immoral, theologically unsound, and undermines rather than uplifts God’s Word, Christ, and the gospel. So it’s great to see Christian publishers, like Kingstone Media which was founded by a pastor, dedicated to producing quality graphic novels that are biblically sound and Christ-centered. (Check out their website to browse their books.) And of course the popular Action Bible, which my grandsons love and has sold a half million copies, has also proven that this format can be both engaging and Christ-honoring at the same time.
Kingstone also has a Kingstone Bible series of twelve books based on Bible stories. My graphic novel The Apostle is Volume 10 of this series.
8. What is the best way for people to contact you, and to read/purchase your work?
I invite people to visit our ministry website, www.epm.org, which has thousands of free resources. We also have an online store that carries my forty-some books. You can follow my blog as well as find me on Facebook and Twitter, and I invite you to join me there.