Carter Means plays guitar in a band called The Turkish Delights. He's also a young and all-around good guy. He’s someone you’d let your daughter date. And he’s a Christian.
One evening, Em Matsuda asks Carter to have a coffee with her. She’s thinking of booking The Turkish Delights to play at the coffee shop where she works, but she wants some clarification on this evangelism thing.
Em asks Carter, “You’re not going to try to convert people, are you?”
Carter replies, “No! I mean, yes, er, uh, it’s tricky to say!
“We’re…uh…Christians and we play in a band and we want to make good music that people will like. But, the goal in our lives is to tell people about Jesus. And we don’t want to take advantage. Although, we don’t want to ignore who we are. And if the need arose…”
Em interrupts Carter at this point. “So, what you’re saying is you don’t know.”
Carter replies, “Yeah, that’s pretty much it!”
I like to think that this small excerpt from Dan Conner’s mini comic, What’s With This Jesus Thing?!?, is autobiographical. Conner himself is a Christian, a comics creator who wants to make good comics that people will like. The goal in his life is to tell people about Jesus, but he doesn’t want to take advantage. So he’ll put his comic strips out there for people to enjoy, and in case the need arises, Conner himself is there, in the strip, ready to talk about Jesus.
In What’s With This Jesus Thing?!?, Carter Means’ awkwardness disappears just as soon as Em asks him about his faith. As he discusses his belief that Jesus is unique among all the prophets, he becomes poised, articulate, positive, and sincere. Always sincere.
In fact, Heaven Forbid! is the most sincere strip I’ve seen since Charlie Brown and Snoopy and the gang said farewell. The characters are good and caring people, delightfully cartooned with a heavy manga influence, including huge eyes and huge smiles. They worry about the things young people always worry about, like what to wear to a party or whether they need a change of hairstyle. Some are Christian, and some are not. When their conversations stray into evangelical terrain, they are always articulate speakers and careful listeners. They accept each other, and care about each other.
It’s such a pleasure to read this strip!
Heaven Forbid! Volume 2: Awkward for Everyone collects a wide variety of strips, mini-comics, pin-ups, and guest art. It really is a treat. I think one would mostly read it for the art, which is dazzling in its variety, yet always consistent in its characterizations. It’s not the first place you would turn for theological insight, or consolation in the face of life’s trials. At least, it’s essentially evangelical nature didn’t touch me in this way.
The one exception, and it’s a whopper, is Volume 2’s installment of Crazy Cute Comics. It features a cat named Purby, who killed and ate his friend McDeermid the mouse in Heaven Forbid! Volume 1. Here in Volume 2, Purby is wrestling with guilt, and the consequences of his actions.
Christianity, Conner says, requires us to change who we are. This is at the heart of Purby’s inner conflict. It’s a cat’s nature to eat a mouse! How can it possibly create guilt? Purby is tormented by self-examination, and descends into deliberations on moral relativism. A projection of McDeermid appears to talk Purby through the problem, and somehow it gets more surreal from there!
You may not be satisfied with McDeermid’s solution to the problem of moral relativism. But together, the mouse and the cat provide a cogent argument for the hope of atonement and the promise of forgiveness. All this from a few pages of conversation between adorable stuffed animal-like creatures, standing in startling contrast to the agony and death that drive their conversation. As surreal as it becomes in the end, this is precisely where Conner gets truly “real.”
To follow Heaven Forbid! is to witness the emergence of a true comics talent. Learn more about Dan Conner and Heaven Forbid! at http://www.crazygoodcomics.com/, and ask your local shop to stock his books. Some of his good vibe will come along with it, I'm sure of it. And that's the kind of good press that a sincere and caring evangelical needs and deserves. There's no hate here. Just a generally happy embrace of life. It might not cut the way Christianity should, but that's okay. Conner will be there, should the need arise.