He secretly drew cartoons on the chalkboard when no one was in the classroom.

By taking a topic from theology class at John Paul the Great University in Escondido, Calif., or a verse from the daily Mass readings, he would develop a pun or joke around it and transform it into a cartoon.

His cartoons became wildly popular on campus.

“I wouldn’t erase important stuff [on the board] … you know, just put them around for people to enjoy. And I wouldn’t sign them … I kept kind of quiet about it.”

Eventually, Tom Gould, who has been drawing for as long as he can remember, was discovered by a fellow classmate. Using Tom’s name, the classmate coined a clever pun for Tom’s cartoons.

“A friend of mine, after he realized it was me putting the comics all over the school … called them ‘Tomics,’” Gould recalled. It was easy to stick with that, as he enjoys using a cross in the place of the “T” in his name, in order to give it a Catholic look.

Inspired by Charles Schulz’s Peanuts and Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, Gould started drawing at a young age. “I’ve been a cartoonist for a long time. I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are just having a crayon in hand.” Even to this day, he draws as many parodies and cartoons as come to mind.

At the same time, Gould was drawing Catholic-inspired cartoons around campus, Matt Martinusen, his fellow classmate and a business major, wanted to develop a ministry for Catholic men.

 “I was wanting to do something entrepreneurial and kind of tap into the Catholic men’s market,” he said. “I really didn’t know what to do. As a Catholic man, what can I bring to the table for that?”

Martinusen asked some of his classmates at John Paul II to contribute to a blog he was starting, Catholic Fellows. His goal was to discuss “different aspects of masculinity and being Catholic to reach different kinds of guys where they are at.”

A website and Facebook page, The Catholic Fellows, began to promote the clever comics. 

It was recently renamed to focus on the Tomics (Facebook.com/tomicscomics). Now, there is a separate website for the cartoons, Tomics.biz.

After seeing Gould’s cartoons on campus, Martinusen asked Gould to join the team. “I told Tom — ‘You can be as Catholic as you want and as funny as you want’ — go for it. … We base them on the readings for that Sunday or a saint-for-a-feast-day kind of thing. We didn’t know how it would be accepted outside the small Catholic campus.”

It wasn’t long before one of Gould’s cartoons went viral: The first viral 2015 post reached around 50,000 people. The “Tomic” features Pontius Pilot telling Jesus, “I can’t save you if you don’t let me,” while Jesus replies, “Likewise.”

It was then that Gould’s cartoons started gaining attention from Catholics, reaching notoriety after being picked up by a Canadian paper, the Catholic Register. The cartoons are published there weekly.

They also now have a popular social-media presence.

They have had several other Tomics go viral, including one on “Doubting Thomas,” which reached around 300,000 people. 

With the success of Tomics, Martinusen decided to focus his ministry exclusively on Gould’s cartoons, as a way of evangelizing to non-Catholics and educating Catholics on Church teaching.

Martinusen says “it’s more of just evangelizing the Catholic community, so they are aware of the readings coming up and kind of give humor so they can understand — they have to kind of know what’s going on. It’s not inclusive, but, if people don’t understand what that means, they want to be in the know and pick up their Catechism to find out.” 

Gould draws a cartoon for the Tomics ministry on a weekly basis. “The main goal is to make people laugh and not be disrespectful, because we aren’t trying to drive people away.”

While both Gould and Martinusen recently graduated from John Paul II the Great and have full-time jobs, they are continuing Tomics as a ministry.

And they have big goals for the future. They self-published their first book, featuring a large selection of Tomics. Their goal is to publish a book annually. Also, they made one of their successful Tomics into a T-shirt. So far, advertisement has only been by word of mouth, using social media.

Martinusen has a bigger dream, too: “that people will know Tom Gould as the ‘funny Catholic guy.’ I believe that he is a very talented and funny guy who knows a lot about his faith and about the art of comics and combining those. So that is my goal — he will be a known Catholic humorist.”

Emily Brandenburg writes from Orange, California.

Image courtesy of Tomics