Comic Books for the Kingdom
More people read comics and comic books than any other form of literature on earth. Why not use this street-smart tool for missions?
Comics integrate text with visual storytelling to create a powerful communication medium. Comic books are low cost, low tech, long lasting, repeat reading, and already familiar to billions of people.
Comic books are "reader breeders," moving non-literate people across the line into literate. An informal, on-going poll I conducted among international missions executives revealed that a majority of them learned to read through comics.
Gospel-resistant Japan produces and reads more comics than any other country, but the appeal of comics is almost universal. (See the accompanying article: "World's Most Popular Literature?")
Surprisingly, missions make little use of comics and seldom use them well, at least in recent years. Martin Luther is a bright exception from history, who used cartoon tracts in his drive to win Northern Germany for the Reformation. Much of early church art is visual story.
Currently, the United Bible Society is producing some quality Bible story comic books. The 13 titles sold in India, such as the story of King David, were combining for sales of more than a million per year in the mid-90s. Since beginning their comics program in 1982, the United Bible Societies have distributed approximately 100 million copies of the 13 titles in over 100 languages worldwide.
The Hong Kong Bible Society continues to expand a delightful series of Bible stories for children illustrated in a comic style, and the Danish Bible Society has published a dramatic visual story of Christ in high art and hard back cover.
Asian missionary Steve Benintendi has produced a quality comic book to go with his highly regarded children's puppet show. Steve has some excellent tracts in comic form as well.
Nanami Minami of Japan has created a truly Japanese digest-sized manga (comic book), relating her experience in coming to Christ as a teen exchange student. Word of Life Press printed the little book and reports it is selling well.
Among Native Indian people of North America, the Dan Red Eagle comic books from North America Indian Ministries (NAIM) broke new ground in contextualizing the Gospel. The art and text of comics can both carry cues to make the message culturally accurate, sensitive, and credible.
Can comics really carry a credible message? Chinese authorities think so. They have printed millions to promote patriotism and combat western influence while the nation absorbs Hong Kong. The Brazilian government has printed over a million comic books for AIDS education.
Do People Respond to Comics?
A Native American woman in Tacoma, Washington says the Dan Red Eagle comics helped bring her to Christ early in 1998. She told her church that the comics were her first positive contact with Christ and the first in which she understood the Gospel.
Comic style literature is powerful because the message is clear. That's why military forces produce many of their training manuals in comic book form. Want to field strip a rifle? Here's a comic book showing how.
There are problems. Pornography and occult themes dominate comics in parts of the world. National churches are sometimes cautious, with good reason, about putting a Christian message into comics.
Also, a few recent attempts to produce Christian comics haven't fared well. These problems are usually due to three avoidable mistakes: 1. Using an illustrator untrained in comics who produces artwork and storytelling inferior to competing street comics; 2. Source-oriented content that is insensitive to the audience; 3. No realistic marketing or distribution plan.
How do we use this tool for Christ? Carefully, prayerfully, and (ideally) as a quality part of a larger mission strategy.
ROX35 Media is a specialty agency that trains and aids ministries to create and use comics effectively. They combine professional comics producers with mission and communication specialists. ROX35 has trained believers from 15 countries to produce culturally effective comics, and aided in illustrating several projects. (See the following column: "ROX35 Media: How to produce comics for ministry").
If we designed a missions tool that multiplied communication power by integrating visual storytelling with printed words, was low cost, low tech and the most user friendly literature on earth, what would we have? A comic book.
World's Most Popular Literature?
In Japan, 40% of all printed material is comic books with sales approaching the equivalent of $7 billion each year. That's over two billion comic books per year. That amounts to 15 copies for every man, woman and child in Japan. Their most popular comic book (the size of a city telephone book) sells over 6 1/2 million copies per week in Japan, averaging 3 to 4 readers per book. An estimated 20% of the entire population reads it daily.
To put these numbers in perspective, TIME magazine sells about 4 1/2 million copies per week in North America, twice Japan's market population. The most popular comic in North America sells only 300,000 copies per month. The bestselling U.S. comic title checks in at around 4.5 million copies a year.
Adults are comic readers outside of North America. If anyone doubts this, take a ride on a Tokyo subway where the majority of business-suited commuters are reading comic books. The Japanese have developed their manga style of comics into an art form as distinctive as the novel is in the West.
In the Philippines, 40% of the population reads a comic book daily, while less than 2% read a newspaper.
China recently produced a comic book series to promote patriotism and combat western influences as Hong Kong enters the nation.
Cambodia is promoting a national census with comic books, Cambodian government officials publicized the country's first census in more than 30 years with a five-month media campaign that included television, radio, and comic books.
ROX35 Media: How to Produce Comics for Ministry
ROX35 Media, Inc. can help you produce effective ministry comics. They have an international team of professional comic illustrators, writers and publishers who train Christians to produce quality comics and use them effectively. They also help ministries on site to produce comics, and can arrange to custom produce comic books.
Who takes the training? Artists, writers, editors, art directors and especially managers of literature projects who want to develop a comic for ministry.
ROX35 Media has held training courses in the Philippines, USA, Thailand, Japan and Australia. A course for Hong Kong is next, with exact dates still pending at press time. If you are interested in attending or hosting a comics training course, please contact ROX35 Media.