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The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Characters
Above: Cover of Joe and Max #4
As far as we can ascertain, Joe and Max comics do not use the "B" word ("Baptist") to identify the title characters. It is not uncommon for Baptist-based companies, including publishing companies, to avoid using the word "Baptist" in their titles and publications. The non-use of the word "Baptist" here should not be taken as a sign that this company or its comic book series are in any way "non-Baptist" in their theology, doctrine and religious practice. Joe is assumed to be a Baptist because his title is part of the Guardian Line of comics published by Guardian Comics, the overtly religious comic book imprint of Urban Ministries, Inc. (UMI), "The African American Christian Publishing & Communications Company." Guardian Comics was founded by Carl Jeffrey Wright, a devout Baptist who became licensed as a Baptist preacher in 1988.
Max, the Hispanic angel assigned to protect Joe, is clearly Christian. The angel wears a gold cross nicklace. Presumably Max is intended to be a generically Christian angel who is not affiliated with any specific denomination.
From: "Publishing Executive Carl Jeffrey Wright Joins Fuller Seminary Board" posted on official Fuller Theological Seminary website (http://www.fuller.edu/news/html/jeff_wright05.asp; viewed 6 July 2007):
Carl Jeffrey Wright, president and chief executive officer of publishing company Urban Ministries, Inc. (UMI), has joined Fuller Seminary's Board of Trustees. The first religious publisher to specifically contextualize Christian educational products for the African-American market, UMI distributes curricula, books, video, and film to nearly a quarter of the 65,000 African-American Christian churches in the U.S., and also does business in international markets.
As a new member of the Fuller board, Wright wants to unite his business background with the seminary's mission. "I hope to extend Fuller's influence through the media presence of the ministry and business I lead," he said. "In particular, I hope to further the development of a Fuller that is a model of institutional excellence in management, while achieving the diversity of faculty and the support of students and staff that would be a model for any university or business in America."
Prior to accepting the presidency at UMI in 1995, Wright was vice president of corporate development for Bristol-Myers Squibb Company. He also served in various business development and marketing positions at Johnson & Johnson and Trans World Airlines. He holds an MBA from Columbia University, a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center, and has completed postgraduate work at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and at Harvard Law School.
An active participant in ministry, Wright has served as associate pastor, director of Christian education, and Sunday school teacher in several Baptist churches over the past 20 years. He resides with his family in Olympia Fields, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois.
Fuller Seminary is one of the largest multidenominational seminaries in the world, with nearly 5,000 students from 70 countries and more than 100 denominations. Fuller provides professional and graduate-level education in its schools of theology, psychology, and intercultural studies.
From: official biographical sketch of Carl Jeffrey Wright, posted on "In Search of Heroes" website (http://www.insearchofheroes.com/internet-heroes/pages/carl-jeffrey-wright-hero.htm; viewed 6 July 2007):
"Jeff Wright, the President of Urban Ministries, The Largest Independent African American Media Firm In the World, Joined Forces With Michael Davis, One of the Greatest Artists and Writers In the World Today, To Create A Faith-Based Comic Book Series, Called The Guardian Line, That Teaches Value Principles Based On God's Wisdom Contained in the Bible"
Lottie Wright was one of eleven children, the daughter of a preacher. At the tender age of eight, she was run over by a train. After she nearly bled to death, her family praised God for preserving her life and accepted the awful truth - Lottie had lost her left leg and her left arm below the elbow. The future a poor, black double amputee could hope to enjoy in 1940s America was dismal, at best. But Lottie was extraordinary. Great things were bound to happen.
She and Alvin married in 1941. In the early fifties, the family, which now included their first son, moved to Washington, D.C. Alvin got a job at the Supreme Court building. Since he had not completed high school, he began his career in Washington as a maintenance worker. As he served faithfully and absorbed the daily routines of the Supreme Court, he received the notice of powerful men. Alvin became a personal assistant to Chief Justice Earl Warren. After 25 years of service to the Court, he retired from the position of Conference Clerk - the only trusted person admitted to the conference room as Supreme Court Justices privately discuss a case.
While Alvin flourished at the Supreme Court, Lottie's loving, no-nonsense approach to discipline shaped the character of the couple's seven sons. "Mom could spank us just as hard as Dad," Jeff recalls. "I was 10 years old before I realized that she was "handicapped." That word - "handicapped" - was never used in the Wright household. Lottie wore a prosthetic leg, but she managed to do everything required of a mother without the use of her left hand. Lottie's boys had the best example of what hard work, determination and intelligence could accomplish. "If a certain goal could be achieved by any living human being, we knew we could achieve it," Jeff remembers...
Jeff attended St. Albans School, the elite National Cathedral high school in Washington, D.C., where his classmates were the sons of senators and high-ranking D.C. personnel... He started college immediately at Fisk University, where he served as student body president and graduated with honors at age 20. While attending Fisk, he spent the summers working as a custodian at the Supreme Court building. "I know for a fact that I am the only lawyer in America who has cleaned every toilet in the Supreme Court," Jeff laughs. One day while he was vacuuming the carpet in the great hall, Jeff decided to pursue a law degree.
He was accepted to Georgetown Law School. During the summer following his freshman year, he began working for the airline industry... As a cash-strapped graduate student, Jeff reconnected with the faith in Jesus that his parents had instilled in him as a young boy.
The next fifteen years were a season of spiritual and professional growth for Jeff. He worked first for Johnson & Johnson then for health care giant Bristol-Myers Squibb, where he was vice president of corporate development (mergers, acquisitions and strategic alliances) for their consumer businesses. In 1988, Jeff decided to become directly involved in ministry, so he enrolled in seminary and was licensed to preach in the Baptist church. He considered leaving his job to be a full-time minister until he saw a film produced by UMI, a company that produces media for the African-American church market, about two inner-city friends who had chosen different paths in life - one as a drug dealer, and one as the writer of Christian hip-hop music. "UMI was so far ahead of the curve," Jeff recalls. "Here was a way to use media in a compelling way to reach young people with the saving message of Christ. I had to work with these people." He called the number on the back of the tape and asked to speak with the company's president, Dr. Melvin Banks, Sr. He was shocked to discover that a small company was producing such great work. Dr. Banks invited Jeff to serve as a consultant for UMI and then to join its board of directors. Jeff resisted a full-time commitment to UMI because his career at Bristol-Myers Squibb had really taken off.
In 1994, Jeff finally made the big leap of faith. He left a powerful, unbelievably high-paying job (with stock options!) in New York to serve as UMI's president and CEO. The company has nearly tripled in size during Jeff's tenure. "When you consider my parents and my grandfather, the preacher, it seems obvious that I would eventually run a company that publishes Sunday school material," Jeff muses. But his mission is not limited to reaching the African-American church alone. "We have seen that Black culture sets trends. It has become the global youth culture. The media delights in glorifying the underbelly of Black culture and presenting it as representative of the culture at-large. I want to spread the message of faith through the best that Black culture has to offer," Jeff emphatically states. Toward accomplishing this goal, UMI will be releasing The Guardian Line, a new series of comics created by established comic book artists that will engage young readers in stories that incorporate UMI's biblical worldview, in September 2006.
Jeff serves on the boards of Americans United for Life, Fuller Theological Seminary, Urban Outreach Foundation and Evangelical Christian Publisher's Association (ECPA). He also serves as board president and CEO of Circle Y Ranch (Bangor, Michigan), one of the few African-American owned and operated Christian camps in the country.
The father of three and one more on the way, Jeff and his wife currently reside in the Chicago area.
For more information, contact
The B & B Media Group, Inc.
800-927-0517 Ext. 104
From: Scott Craven, "Christian comics target mainstream", published 13 January 2007 in The Arizona Republic (http://www.azcentral.com/ent/pop/articles/0113christiancomics0113.html; viewed 6 July 2007):
The Guardian Line
These are the four titles available:
Joe and Max: Joe, a poor fatherless boy in New Hope City, is enlisted to fight super villain Steven Dark with the aid of Max, his (very buff) guardian angel. Unfortunately for Joe, 11, Max speaks only in Scripture. If only Joe had paid more attention in Sunday school.
Code: A tech-savvy though mysterious man travels the world helping those in need. His power lies in a revolutionary knowledge of the Scripture that helps him vanquish his foes.
Genesis 5: Turns out high school is just as difficult for the heavenly in this tale of five teen angels who are called to fight evil (Steven Dark again) in between football games, dances and dates.
The Seekers: Three teens and one mysterious man are given a very special MP3 player that allows them to travel through time, defeating evil in multiple eras. If that device isn't an iPod killer, nothing is.
As with most superheroes, the guardians of New Hope City are endowed with powers beyond those of normal men. They are strong, they can fly and they can travel through time.
But these culturally diverse warriors have something that separates them from the comic-book pack: God is on their side.
Their disdain of evil may be the same as that of other superpowered beings, but the heroes of the Guardian Line are just as likely to quote the Bible as they are to put a righteous "kablooey" on the bad guys.
And unlike previous Christian-based comics that have relied on biblical tales for content, the recently released and slickly produced Guardian titles feature new stories from experienced writers and artists. While the creators hope the series turns a profit, they say the message is more important than the money.
"We're committed to this and we're not going to bail out at the first sign of trouble," said Michael Davis, the creative mind behind the Guardian Series. "Of course, we hope the comics sell well enough to support themselves financially, but there are other things at work here."
The new line's four titles - Joe and Max, The Seekers, Genesis 5 and Code - feature characters who freely profess their faith in stories that otherwise mirror those of such popular comics as X-Men, Superman or Batman.
At Samurai Comics in Phoenix, readers would be hard-pressed to notice Guardian's Christian judgments by the comics' covers. They fit seamlessly amid caped crusaders and masked marauders, their themes not plainly evident until the first few pages, said Mike Banks, Samurai's owner.
The comics have sold moderately well, exceeding Banks' expectations. Religious comics normally don't do well when featured next to Marvel and DC, but the Guardian Line has held its own, largely because its themes are relatively subtle, Banks said.
"You're not hammered with the Christian theme," he said. "That's pretty rare (for Christian-based comics). The theme runs through them, but the stories and characters are interesting and they're a lot of fun to read. The graphics are excellent, and I recognize the names of the writers and artists. That's a good recipe for success."
The balance between story and theme was important to Davis. Too much preaching and too little action would turn off mainstream readers, Davis said. Nor did he want to obscure his characters' faith, which is integral to the adventures.
The Guardian Line, he said, is for everyone regardless of beliefs. He hopes readers will relate to real-world characters, thus helping the positive moral outcomes to resonate.
"Many of the comic heroes out there are very dark, menacing, grim," Davis said from his Los Angeles home. "And I've done my share of them. I wanted the Guardian Line to have a more positive worldview. I think people are in the mood for that."
However, the message can be easily defeated by the medium's most feared villain: Captain Inferiority. Fanboys (and girls) won't stand for senseless stories and amateurish illustrations, Davis said.
"A lot of the (Christian comic) books are just bad," he said. "Horribly drawn, horribly written. I'm not afraid of the stigma of the (religious) subject the books address. I'm afraid people won't give them a fighting chance, dismissing them in terms of being a Christian comic."
Comic books are best known for delivering preteen fantasies wrapped in Spandex, so many might think it odd to find biblical references scattered among color-infused panels.
But comics are the perfect way to get positive messages to youths, said Carl Jeffrey Wright, president of Urban Ministries Inc., which publishes the Guardian Line.
For more than 30 years, Chicago-based UMI has created Christian-based magazines and films aimed at African American teens, and comics are a logical extension of that mission.
"Not everyone is reached by sermons," Wright said. "We recognize that, so we try to use different forms of media."
Guardian also discerns itself with its cultural diversity. Ever since four-color comics debuted decades ago, White has been the dominant hue. Guardian's heroes are more representative of the real world, with African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Latinos and Latinas.
The comics fill a huge gap, religiously and culturally, Wright said. That's why it was so important to make sure the books were well written and expertly produced.
It's also why UMI partnered with Davis, one of the founders of Milestone Comics, which has sold more than 10 million comics since 1993 and is the biggest Black-owned comic book publisher in the world.
"We wanted to create them with legitimacy in the comic world," Wright said. "They build a bridge to a multicultural audience, specifically African-Americans, while delivering a Christian theme."
Appealing to parents
Natacha Andrews, a mother of four youngsters (two of whom read comics), is encouraged that such comics are available.
She's well acquainted with the kind of violence associated with comics, as her husband, James, reads Spider-Man, Batman and similar titles. She'd rather her children spend time with comics that profess her faith.
"I find the idea (of Christian comics) extremely appealing, and that someone would take the time to make them of high quality," Andrews said. "I almost feel that Christianity has become a dirty word, that we don't mention our faith so as not to offend anyone. This is very refreshing."
Not everyone agrees that God and his teachings belong in the same medium occupied by the Hulk. The Rev. Oscar Tillman, president of the Maricopa County branch of the NAACP, said comics can cheapen the message.
Tillman, who had not seen the books but had studied the Guardian Line's online site, said he was disappointed by the examples he saw. He was particularly distressed by the character of a young boy who is told that God took away his father.
Children, Tillman said, should learn about the Bible in Sunday school, not the comics.
"We have other ways to responsibly address religious and moral values," he said. "These do not get my stamp of approval."
UMI printed 20,000 copies of the first issues, an average run for a new title. Davis expects it to sell out, saying the Guardian Line will be noticed (or perhaps ignored) for its Christian themes and culturally diverse characters.
"It's a risk, but only if we don't stick with it," Davis said. "And I don't see that happening. It could take weeks, months, years, but no one is giving up. And one day you'll see movies, TV shows and toys based on these characters. We're going for everything here and we expect it to happen."