The very first comic book was published in 1933 and sparked a craze that reached its height during the 1950s and continues even to this day. Original copies of comic books introducing famous, modern-day pop-culture icons such as Spider-Man and Superman can fetch, believe it or not, millions of dollars and are considered some of the most sought-after collector’s items.
The comic book’s ability to blend exciting visuals with storytelling intrigue makes it a great medium for communication — and in the Church’s case, evangelization. Jesus said that to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must be like children — innocent, curious and joyful. Comic books are often frowned upon as being “only for kids,” but if, as Jesus says, we are to be like children, then why not foster our inner “kid at heart” during this Christmas season and kick back with a few comic books?
Here are a few comic-style books to consider giving (or asking for) as gifts this Christmas season.
For the history buff: The Faithful Spy
Though he wasn’t Catholic, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a historical figure who has been revered and respected by the Catholic Church since his death in 1945. He wrote many works on what it means to be a follower of Christ, including his most famous work, The Cost of Discipleship, which is considered a modern classic about the Christian life, and his writings have had far-reaching influence on various denominations of Christianity.
Here’s the fascinating thing about Bonhoeffer: He was a budding theologian during the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime in Germany, an event that profoundly impacted the way in which he viewed and lived his faith. While witnessing the atrocities of the Nazis and the complacency of the Church in Germany, Bonhoeffer took matters into his own hands and did the unthinkable: He devised a plot to kill Hitler.
This remarkable story is told through a combination of handwritten text and vibrant, comic-like illustrations in The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix. Written and illustrated by Hendrix, this is an informative and entertaining read that recounts the incredible lengths one follower of Christ went to fight an unspeakable evil that ravaged the people of his beloved homeland and contains a core message of faith that’s both uplifting and challenging at once.
For the collector: Marvel’s saint comics
Did you know that once upon a time, Marvel Comics — that’s right, the Marvel Comics — counted saints in the Catholic Church among their roster of superheroes? Okay, maybe not explicitly — but Marvel published several comics about the lives of famous saints (St. Francis of Assisi), and even future saints (Mother Teresa and John Paul II) in the 1980s.
The bad news is you won’t find these comics at your local bookstore. The good news is that they’re not that expensive and can be found with relative ease online at websites such as Amazon. Who knows, they might even have them at one of the several comic shops around Denver (yes, comic shops still exist). There may never be the John Paul II/Spider-Man mash-up we’ve all dreamed of (or is that just us?), but each of these saints lived heroic lives that are more than worthy of being told on the pages of a comic book.
For the kids: Catechism of the Seven Sacraments
Let’s face it: As wonderful as the Catechism of the Catholic Church is, it’s not the most exciting thing for a child, especially when trying to teach them about the beauty of the sacraments. Nothing will get a child to become disinterested in the faith quicker than spouting a bunch of big words at them and attempting to explain complex theological concepts without any sort of context they can understand.
Authors Kevin and Mary O’Neill understand this, so they came up with a brilliant solution: Create a book that explains the sacraments using the biblical stories they came from, one that sheds light on the links between the Old and New Testaments, makes these concepts accessible and understandable for children and, oh — do all of this with Legos. The Catechism of the Seven Sacraments is perhaps the first book of its kind, combining comic book panel storytelling with incredibly detailed Lego scenes that any child would love.
The book itself is charming, presented as a tour of the history and origins of the seven sacraments, led by the Lego characters Fulton and Cynthia. While obviously intended for children, don’t be fooled by the book’s fun presentation; at 283 pages, it’s a surprisingly thorough guide to the sacraments and has a lot of nuggets of information that can be useful for Catholics of all ages, including a glossary of terms at the end. If you know a child who seems disinterested in the richness of the faith, The Catechism of the Seven Sacraments might be just what they need to see what God has in store for them.