SAN RAFAEL, Calif. — A comic book entitled Habemus Papam!, chronicling the life of Pope Benedict XVI, will be distributed during the World Youth Day gathering in Madrid, Spain, Aug. 16-21.

Manga Hero, based in San Rafael, Calif., is behind the content. Jonathan Lin created the exclusively, and unapologetically, Catholic comic book-publishing company in 2010. He uses an Asian twist on the more traditional superhero comic books with which Americans are familiar.

His decision to get involved with World Youth Day 2011 is an example of divine Providence at work.

“I have a friend who knew someone who worked at the World Youth Day headquarters, who then told me where to submit a proposal to World Youth Day 2011. They asked us to develop a plot that highlights the Pope’s message to young people from past WYDs he attended, as well as the theme for this year’s WYD. The organizing committee then approved the proposal, and, thus, Habemus Papam!was born. We’re printing 300,000 copies, half in English and half in Spanish.”

Manga is a publishing category for Japanese-style graphic novels, typically intended for adults and characterized by highly stylized art, utilizing bold, exaggerated drawings. The style came to the forefront in the mid-1980s and has only recently come to the United States. Anime is the animated version of manga. Americans and Europeans might be familiar with manga and anime if they have children who are fans of Pokemon, Yu-gi-oh! and Dragon Ball Z. Baby boomers might remember Astro Boy and Speed Racer as early forms of manga.

The new comic about the Holy Father, written by Gabrielle Gniewek, a student at John Paul the Great University in San Diego, fits well into Manga Hero’s repertoire. True to its name, the company develops stories about heroes and heroines who display virtues such as honor, sacrifice, courage, faith, wisdom and love. Manga Hero’s current publications include Paul: Tarsus to Redemption, written by Matthew Salisbury and Gniewek, and Judith: Captive to Conqueror, also written by Gniewek. Sean Lam illustrated both series. Future mangas will focus on the Cana wedding feast, Joshua, David and St. George, Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa and St. Maximilian Kolbe.

Manga as a Tool

Lin believes that focusing on heroes and heroines of the Catholic faith is an ideal way to evangelize, especially in conjunction with this increasingly popular comic style. In the last decade, manga has experienced explosive growth throughout the world. It is considered one of Japan’s most successful exports.

“I grew up watching anime, having been introduced to the medium by my cousins from Japan. We want to use manga as a tool to show the youth and the world that the Church is not afraid of modernity and evolving culture. It is not afraid to use, in this case, new and compelling forms of media to meet young people where they are,” explained Lin.

“We hope manga becomes a fun platform for people to learn more about the Holy Father and realize that the Church is relevant, visible and active in modern culture. Manga represents an important opportunity to reach out to people with an attractive form that can transform society and inspire interest in the faith.”

Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI called for the use of new and different varieties of media to reach young people where they are in order to build a culture of love and dignity, and Lin’s company uses manga as one such medium.

Lin describes how his involvement with Catholic manga was intimately involved with his own spiritual journey.

“I was born and raised Catholic. However, after high school, I started drifting away from my faith, getting caught up with what the world wants ... and what the world thinks will make me happy — recognition, wealth, career, etc. However, after attending World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia, I realized that while those worldly things are good, focusing my life just on these things didn’t make me any happier. That’s when I started to take my faith more seriously.

“My spirituality is based on my ultimate purpose in life — to know, love and serve God. Following Jesus Christ is not meant to be easy, but there is a joy and peace that exists when living a life based on his teachings — to love one another as he loves us, to defend the life and dignity of every human being, to be a person for others.”

Register correspondent Angelo Stagnaro writes from New York.