OK parents of tween kiddos who play video games and are drawn to comic books, this article is for you. In fact, you may even discover a great Easter gift for your child. Below is an interview with children’s (tweens) author Mario DeMatteo. He shares how God worked through his personal tragedy and suffering to reach children for Jesus. At the conclusion of this interview is a question to answer if you would like to be eligible to receive a free comic book-graphic novel from Mario. To participate you must live in the contiguous U. S. (Parents, These bible based books will capture the imagination of your older kids and are not recommended for littles. Just like with any book, know the sensitivities of your kiddos before purchasing. PG/ PG13 rating)
From Tragedy to Triumph: How God Works Amidst Suffering
Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?
Mario, can you tell us a little about your story and how a personal tragedy led you to graphic (comic book) novels?
In 2004, I was attending Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. I was 20 years old, playing on the soccer team, going for a degree in business, I was in love, and thought I had everything in my life figured out. On my summer vacation, I went on a surfing trip to Costa Rica. On the very last day, I broke my neck diving into a shallow swimming pool. Waking up the next day, the Costa Rican doctor told me I was paralyzed. In one instant, my whole life was flipped upside down.
I was so scared of the future. How could I live in a wheelchair? What use would I be? It would have been better if I died. Even though it seemed like life was over for me, I soon felt the love and power of God fill the hospital room. It’s hard to explain. There was an overwhelming feeling of hope – this wasn’t the end, but rather, a new beginning. In the hospital back in America, I was given a NLT Study Bible, a book by Victor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning, and an anthology of Silver Surfer comics. The Bible fed me, Frankl gave me hope and helped me find purpose in my suffering, and Silver Surfer allowed me to escape into comic book literature.
When I finally got out of the hospital four months later, I was hooked on comic books and storytelling. I knew deep down that if it was God’s will for me, I would find a calling in comic books one way or another.
What inspired you to create graphic novels about the Apostle Paul and Apostle Peter?
A few years after getting hurt, I went back to school to learn more about storytelling and how to tell my own stories. In my free time, I was reading more and more comic books and graphic novels, everything from X-Men, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to modern day books like Jeff Smith’s Bone, Doug Tenapel books, to Kibuishi’s Amulet series. All these books, combined with my love for Lord of the Rings, C.S Lewis’s Space Trilogy, and Star Wars, led me to start dreaming of what my first comic book might be. It wasn’t long before I couldn’t stop thinking about Paul the Apostle. His story was so powerful and I resonated with how young Paul thought he had his whole life figured out and his life, just like mine, was suddenly flipped upside down. I started sketching, and writing, and dreaming big, and seeking mentorship. It seemed that once I knew for sure that I was serious about starting, God immediately started opening doors and introducing me to comic book professionals. I formed a great team between myself, Ben Avery, Mark Harmon, Brett Burner, and Ismael Castro, and we began a 4 year journey of making our first book Paul the Apostle: Graphic Story Bible and now our second book, Peter the Apostle. Working on these books has been a dream come true.
What makes graphic novels and comic books powerful educational ministry tools for children?
A lot of graphic novels and comic books have traditionally received a negative reputation for violence and inappropriate content. And yes, there are still those types of books. But there are also so many family friendly books that inspire children to read and fall in love with storytelling. The combination of amazing art and words makes reading a graphic novel a little less intimidating for reluctant readers and draws readers even deeper into the stories. From a ministry standpoint, Bible based comic books and graphic novels not only inspire children to learn more about Jesus and other Bible truths, but the visual aspect of comic books and graphic novels helps visual learners comprehend the stories better.
In your book, the Bible characters are depicted as cartoon creatures, set in futuristic landscapes. Why did you choose creatures and futuristic lands to tell a Bible story?
That is a great question that I get a lot. The main reason why our characters look like they belong in Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or Chronicles of Narnia is because I grew up loving those types of stories and I felt it might engage children in a unique and special way. But the decision was not easy. I prayed about it a lot and spoke with many pastors and parents before starting. With video games and Star Wars and Marvel movies dominating children’s time and attention, I felt a Bible story told using similar looking characters and lands might draw some children in and captivate them in a new way with stories holding true to the Bible scriptures. I was making it for a kid like me. Even though our Paul character looks like a fox-man, if a child reads our book, she or he will have a solid foundational understanding of the Book of Acts and of the Gospels of Jesus. We also found that by using unique creatures instead of human characters, children are able to comprehend the stories and characters a little easier. And every page has the Bible scripture reference at the bottom to point children and parents back to the Bible. We encourage parents to read our books with a Bible nearby, to enrich the experience even further.
How is Jesus depicted?
Another great question. Jesus is the most human looking character in the entire book series. Well, he is a human in our books. We did not want to stray too far from the classic depiction of our Lord and Savior. But surprisingly, Jesus fits in perfectly with all the creatures of the book. His love transcends the way we look.
What would you say to encourage a parent dealing with a child or teen dealing with some sort of depression or trauma? And how can creativity help?
Even though I have found purpose and meaning in my life, I still deal with depression and sadness. I think we all deal with these difficult feelings in some way. It can be really hard to feel depressed or watch your child feel hopeless. I was very fortunate to have a strong faith and very supportive family and friends when I got hurt. And I realize not every child or adult will be as fortunate. I encourage parents to seek ways to inspire their children’s creative sides. Let them take risks and be wild with their creativity, with supervision of course. If they like comic books, buy as many as they will read. The library is also packed full of them. Encourage children to write their own stories and draw characters and paint a creature on the side of recycled old door. Watch movies with your kids, the movies they like. If they play video games, maybe they’ll let you take a turn. Encourage them to write their own video game idea. I think the biggest way to help kids deal with sadness and depression is to show them compassion and to love on them. We all need extra love. When we feel loved, we can muster the courage and bravery to face our fears and seek out our own adventures.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6: 33-34
If you would like to be eligible for a free book from Mario please provide your answer to this question in the comment section below. Note to enter you must live in the contiguous U.S. :
What is your favorite Bible quote from Paul the Apostle?
Mario DeMatteo is a storyteller, comic book creator, a poet, and an urban farmer. During college, Mario was in a tragic diving accident that confined him to a wheelchair. After years of feeling depressed and unsure about his future, God put it on his heart to begin work on a children’s graphic novel ministry tool called the Graphic Story Bible. Mario hopes to reach children across the world with the life-transforming message of Christ Jesus. He is currently working on adapting Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place into a graphic novel and other super top secret comic book projects. Mario lives in San Diego, California, with his wife Karla, his dog Spanky, and tortoise named Dos. To purchase a book go to www.beartruthbooks.com and apply the discount code 30%OFF at checkout to purchase Mario’s books.