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BY Tim Drake
ROME — Hightail it back to Krypton, Superman. Move over X-Men. Holy Father, Batman! There's a new comic book hero in town.
Like his fictional counterparts, he lost his parents at a young age, he wears a cape, and he has a vehicle that would make most comic book superheros envious. Only this hero isn't fictional. His name is Karol Wojtyla, otherwise known as Pope John Paul II. The Holy Father is featured in a new series of four comic books being published by the Society of St. Paul for the Italian children's magazine Il Giornalino (The Little Newspaper).
“It is a life full of adventures, change, interest, tragedy, missions, trips,” the authors of Karol Wojtyla: Pope of the Third Millennium explain in the prologue. They note that the publication has the Vatican's approval. In addition, both Radio Vaticana and Avvenire, the Italian bishop's conference daily newspaper, had positive comments to make regarding the series.
The biography is narrated by an aged grandfather and begins with the Holy Father's infancy and childhood in Wadowice, Poland, and includes his youth, when he played soccer and was an actor on the stage. The narrative includes moments of anguish, such as his mother's death when he was 9 years old, and that of his only brother two years later.
The series was written by Toni Pagot, and illustrated by one of Italy's most popular illustrators, Sergio Toppi.
Toppi spent a year creating the series. The first of the four-part series was published in mid-November. The remaining episodes ended at Christmas.
“Il Giornalino uses the comic to dis close and introduce the history of Karol Wojtyla,” says Father Antonio Tarzia, editor of the weekly magazine. “The Jubilee Year would be incomplete without such a publication on John Paul II, given that he is such a great friend of the young people,” adds Father Tarzia.
Tarzia says that children seem to appreciate the comics. “The language is straighter, more natural and spontaneous, and as a consequence, easier for them to follow.”
Il Giornalino is no stranger to such comics. They have a history of publishing about the lives of other positive historical characters, such as Mother Teresa, Ghandi and Martin Luther King. According to Maria Re, publicist for St. Paul's International, it is possible that the papal comic strips may be later bound as a book, as was done with the Society's “Holy Bible” in comics.
At present, there are no plans to reproduce an English version of the comic.
Il Giornalino is not the first time that the Holy Father's story has been presented in comic book art. Marvel Comics released in 1982 an English version of The Life of Pope John Paul II.
Pauline Books and Media has also used comic books as a way to reach youth with the message of Christ. They distribute a series of comic books on the lives of the Saints that were originally published in France by publisher Editions du Signe. The stories, including the lives of Saints Bernadette, Bernard, Clare, Elizabeth, Joan of Arc, Martin, Maximilian Kolbe, Thérèse, and Vincent de Paul were translated into English in 1995.
As an addition to their Saints series, the Daughters of St. Paul have also published a comic book about their founder, the Venerable Father James Alberione. Catholic Parent has praised the series as “appealing, artistic and competent.”
“The stories of saints Thérèse and Maximilian Kolbe are very popular,” explains children's editor, Franciscan Sisters of Peace Sister Patricia Edward Jablonski.
“People are first attracted to the well-known saints,” says Sr. Jablonski. “Then parents come back for the rest of the series. There seems to be a resurgence of interest in saints as role models for young people.”
Pope for Kids
One of their recent books, although not a comic book, is a children's biography of Pope John Paul II. Titled Karol from Poland: The Life of Pope John Paul II for Children, it is written for a younger audience and tells the major events in the Holy Father's life in a way that would be interesting to children.
“It shows Karol with his friends. It brings out his humanness, but it also tells of his hardships … the loss of his mother and only brother, and the difficulties of being a member of an underground seminary during World War II. It offers him as a role model,” says Sr. Jablonski. “It explains that Pope John Paul II is a missionary to the whole world and in the end asks children to pray for him.”
It has received rave reviews.
“The book contributes greatly to offering insight into the life of His Holiness, motivating children to respond to the God who loves them … just as Karol has responded,” said Msgr. Stanislaus Sypek who reviewed the book. Sypek is a priest in Boston and a personal friend of the Pope.
Written by Franciscan of Peace Sister Mary Leonora Wilson, and illustrated by Carla Koch, Pauline Books and Media has already sold out its original print-run of 3,000 and has had to run a second printing of Karol from Poland.
One thing is for certain.
A comic book version will serve to introduce Pope John Paul II to even more people.
“At last we have a superhero who children can look up to and whose ‘super powers’ are within reach of us all,” says Chris Erickson, director of communications with Catholics United for the Faith.
“The comic book is an innovative idea that casts a superhero in an unambiguous good vs. evil real-life plot, filled with tragedies and heroic accomplishments. He is super because he is Christ-like. He is a hero because he is real,” he says. “We desperately need an English edition!”