What was the world’s first comic book? Aficionados can’t seem to agree. Was it “Master Flashgold's Splendiferous Dream” in 1755? Or “The Glasgow Looking Glass” in 1820? Or perhaps the “Historie de M. Jabot” in 1833?
It all depends on how you define the term. If you mean using sequential images to tell a story, then Trajan’s Column in Rome (completed AD 113) is in with a shout.
So when was the first Catholic comic book? That’s equally hard to pinpoint, says Philip Kosloski, the founder of Voyage Comics.
One pioneer was the “Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact,” a brightly colored magazine featuring adventure stories and lives of the saints delivered to U.S. parochial schools in the 1940s and 50s.
The best-known Catholic comic book is probably Marvel’s 1982 “The Life of Pope John Paul II,” which captured the excitement generated by the charismatic Polish pope’s election four years earlier.
In an email interview with The Pillar, Kosloski explained how he came to build on this tradition in the 21st century and how the genre can be used for evangelization.
Born in Wisconsin in 1986, Kosloski was raised Catholic, but he only began to take Catholicism seriously when he reached high school. Helped by a group called the Dead Theologians Society, he learned about the saints and deepened his commitment to the faith.
After studying at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota and the Augustine Institute in Colorado, he worked as a parish director of adult faith formation for six years. In 2018, he founded Voyage Comics, with the mission “to create exceptional entertainment, informed by Catholic values, that inspires people to live a heroic life.”
He spoke to The Pillar about how Catholics view comics, his love for Daredevil, and the one unrealized challenge in the Catholic comic book world.
If you walk into a bookstore these days, you’re likely to see a section dedicated to manga and graphic novels. This suggests they are now accepted as part of mainstream literary culture. Why do you think this change happened?
Much of that has to do with the rise in popularity in superheroes and comic book franchises. The most popular blockbuster movies of the last 20 years have nearly all been based on comic book heroes. Ever since Disney took over Marvel Comics, comic books have become more mainstream than ever before.
Do you think there’s been a similar change within Catholic culture, or are comic books/graphic novels still seen as a somewhat dubious genre mainly for children?
Catholic parents see how their children are being attracted to comic books and superheroes, but are also finding that most mainstream comics have material that is offensive to traditional family values.
Comic books are visually attractive and hard to put down, which is why many Catholic companies are starting to see the potential in creating their own content. As the culture continues to move away from God, Catholic families are starving for alternative entertainment that contains stories that are in line with their Catholic faith.
What would you say to a Catholic who sees comic books/graphic novels as a primitive or even subversive genre?
I would say that comic books should be thought of more as a “medium,” or storytelling technique. A comic book is essentially a piece of artwork that is accompanied by text. There can be good pieces of artwork, something that is true, good, and beautiful.
At the same time, people can use the medium in the “wrong” way, highlighting the brokenness of humanity and leading people away from God. Comic books are a “tool,” which can be used for good or for ill.
Why might comics/graphic novels be a good genre for people seeking to evangelize?
In many ways, comic books are simply a continuation of the Church’s long history of creating artwork to tell a story. This can be seen in many churches where the stained-glass windows tell a sequential story, summarizing salvation history.
It simply makes sense to use comic books as a tool for evangelization, as it combines art and words in a compelling format. Comics can be used to tell the stories of the saints as well as original stories that are rooted in the Catholic faith.
Are there any drawbacks to the form for people trying to convey the Christian message?
Comics are not for everyone, as some people prefer to read a traditional book. Also, comics rely heavily on the style of the artist, and similar to any type of artwork, may be attractive to some, but not others.
What was the first Catholic comic?
It’s difficult to pinpoint the first Catholic comic book, but many recall how “Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact” was among the pioneers during the 1940s and 50s. It was a popular magazine-style comic book that was delivered to parochial schools around the United States. It included stories of the saints, as well as other original stories that highlighted Christian virtues.
Are there any comic book heroes who are Catholic?
Interestingly, many comic book creators developed Catholic heroes, such as Daredevil, Hellboy, Nightcrawler, and possibly even Batman.
What inspired you to found Voyage Comics?
I saw the potential of comic books to tell a compelling story and believed there was a growing need for good, quality stories. I wanted to provide Catholic families with an alternative to the mainstream world of entertainment.
My mission has always been to deliver quality comic books that are rooted in the Catholic faith, something that anyone could pick up and enjoy.
What is your favorite comic book/graphic novel and why?
I’ve come to enjoy a variety of comic books, such as the original Batman series in the 1930s and 40s. It was a time when the culture still had traditional values and it was reflected in many of the superheroes of the “Golden Age.”
I also appreciate the many runs of Daredevil, as he is a hero who constantly struggles with his Catholic faith and quest for justice.
Have you always been a practicing Catholic, or did you experience some form of conversion?
I was raised Catholic, though I didn’t take my faith seriously until high school. Then I began to question my faith and started to investigate it, discovering answers I wasn't expecting. I was also supported by a youth group called the Dead Theologians Society, which examined the lives of the saints. Through all these influences, I really took ownership of my faith.
Can you tell me about your online Armory, where you provide Christians with weapons, armor, and strategies for spiritual warfare?
My website features an archive of spiritual reflections that I call the “Armory.” Many of these articles focus on spiritual warfare and conquering common obstacles that prevent us from leading a fruitful prayer life.
You’ve written several books on prayer. Do you find it easy or hard, and do you follow a daily routine?
For me, the key was developing a routine by making it part of my daily schedule. Instead of trying to fit it in at random points during the day, I put it on my calendar. That simple action has kept me praying every single day. It’s not always easy, but since it’s on my schedule, I’m not going to miss it.
One of your new titles is “Digital Disciple: Carlo Acutis and the Eucharist.” Do you think that there’s an aspect of Bl. Carlo Acutis’ life that a comic book can convey more vividly than other media?
Carlo’s life fits perfectly in a comic book as it helps to visually portray the images that captured his imagination. He was fascinated by Eucharistic miracles and made an entire exhibit about them. In a comic book, we can show that visually and his life becomes more memorable, especially for young people.
What do you think of attempts to create comic versions of the entire Bible?
I think comic book versions of the Bible are honorable attempts at portraying the events of salvation history. Artists have been doing this for centuries with paintings or even stained-glass windows. Comics provide an opportunity to add a little more “action” to the illustrations.
The only void in the Bible comic market is the lack of a Catholic version. Some have tried to do bits and pieces of the Bible, but no one in the Catholic world has attempted the entire Bible.