By Art Ayris
This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Henry Cavill as Superman in “Man of Steel.” (AP/Warner Bros. Pictures)
This summer producers of the blockbuster movie “Man of Steel” used some of their marketing might to convince pastors that the image of Superman-as-Christ makes good sermon fodder.
Because the explosion of successful faith-based films and the record-setting performance of “The Bible” mini-series has proven the importance of the Christian market.
But Christians know that the archetype for all superheroes is Jesus! The Bible is full of heroes and hero tales. They’ve conquered film and TV, but an important battleground remains—comics and graphic novels. (Hey, where do you think they found Superman?)
It might seem odd at first—Christians and comics—because this publishing niche is often associated with the sexualized gore and graphic violence many religious leaders (and others) warn against.
The fact is comics and graphic novels reach a prized demographic extremely difficult to crack with traditional Christian messages—teenage boys and young men. And just as Christians have successfully moved into books, movies and TV, they are similarly moving into comics and graphic novels.
Comics and graphic novels reach a prized demographic extremely difficult to crack with traditional Christian messages—teenage boys and young men.
I should know. A pastor by day, I founded Kingstone Media Group and its dominant imprint Kingstone Comics. Our specific aim — from day one — was to attract top names in the comic industry to produce premium quality comics and graphic novels that bring fantastic biblical action and adventure stories to life on their pages in direct competition with the bigger players in this niche.
Our initial goal was that Kingstone would become the ‘Marvel Comics’ of the faith market, but eventually to be considered a legitimate player in the general comics market.
But this isn’t about me or Kingstone. It’s about a large market virtually untapped by Christians. U.S. sales of comics and graphic novels top $750 million, and that is growing. In Japan—with about a third our population—it’s a $5 billion industry.
Best-selling author Randy Alcorn has written more than 40 books with over 7 million sold ranging from non-fiction, to film novelizations, to Christian thrillers. He just wrote his first graphic novel and plans another.
Why? He tells it best with a true story of recently giving a copy of the work—called “Eternity”—to two boys. “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. 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.”
The publishing industry knows the explosive young adult niche mainly attracts female readers. Boys read mid-grade fiction, one publishing insider told me, then skip to adult-level books. Graphic novels are the exception, and comics and graphic novels with a different kind of superhero offer an alternative message.
Don’t misunderstand. This is ministry and business. It’s faith-based entrepreneuring. I have investors. They expect a return. I have a market. It won’t tolerate less than top quality. — God has a message. It deserves editorial and artistic excellence that will compete in the marketplace right alongside Superman, the Wolverine and “The Walking Dead.”
And I must compete on the same distribution channels. I’m thrilled that comiXology, the leading digital comics marketplace, recently added Kingstone Comics to their premiere lineup. At the same time, I know that this is the Big Leagues, and our works must earn their place at the plate daily. (ComiXology was the No. 3 top grossing iPad app last year.)
The bar is set high, and the opportunity—business and ministry—is huge. But the formula is simple: Story and quality sell.
The success of “Man of Steel” showed something else this summer. Deep down, people desire a strong, selfless person—perhaps an otherworldly being—to speak something bright and do something good in the world today. In other words, we need heroes, and we need their stories told in ways that people will listen.
If that isn’t an opportunity for Christians—for business and for ministry—I don’t know what is.