Comic Book Hero for the New Millennium

LONDON — Watch out, Superman and Batman — there's a new caped crusader in comic-book land!

Just over a year ago, the Register reported that Pope John Paul II's life was published in comic-book form in Italian. At the time, “We desperately need an English edition,” said Chris Erickson, spokesman for Catholics United for the Faith, echoing a wish shared by many.

That wish has been granted. The Society of St. Paul recently published an English version of Karol Wojtyla: The Pope of the Third Millennium. The book marks the second time during John Paul's pontificate that he has been immortalized in comic book art.

“I can't wait to get hold of it and read it to my kids,” said Erickson, who is the father of seven children, ages 1 to 13. “Now they'll have a real live hero to emulate, a valiant warrior with vulnerable flesh and red blood who really is conquering the world.”

Young readers agree. Ten-year-old Andrew Jensen, of Duelm, Minn., said he has read Charlie Brown comic books, Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and he has seen Cactus Game Design's Archangel religious-based comic books, but he's never seen anything like this.

“I like that it's about a real-life hero, the Pope,” said Andrew. “It's interesting to learn about him as a boy and about his life. I didn't know that his name was Karol Wojtyla or that he was involved in World War II.”

Originally published in a series of four in Il Giornalino (The Little Newspaper) Italian children's magazines, the comics were well received throughout Italy. The Society of St. Paul, which publishes Il Giornalino, “saw an increase of 25% in the magazine's circulation and gained an additional 1,000 subscribers,” said publicist Maria Re. News of the original release was reported by Time, CNN, the BBC, and the New York Times.

Father Sebastian Karamvelil, managing director of St. Paul's bookshop in London, was impressed with the Italian publication and decided to commission an English edition.

Five thousand copies were published, which first released in the United Kingdom in October and is being distributed through St. Paul's International. The comic book has also been published in Korea, France and Poland.

Unusual Format

“The [comic] book format is unusual for the U.K.,” said David Chapman, manager of the Westminster Cathedral store, “but the more people examine the book, the more likely they are to buy it. An examination of the text shows that while it has its lighter moments, it is a serious attempt to show something of the life and achievements of Pope John Paul II in an easily accessible way.”

In the book, readers encounter the events in the Holy Father's life as narrated by a grandfather to his grandchildren. It 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 Karol Wojtyla was 9 years old, and the death of his only brother two years later. It ends with images of the Pope on Christmas Eve 1999, at the beginning of the Great Jubilee 2000.

In addition to the story, the book also contains an introduction by Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, general secretary of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, and appendices.

The appendices consist of numerous color photographs of the Holy Father, a list of the Pope's travels, a timeline of the most important moments from the life of Karol Wojtyla, and a list of the Holy Father's encyclicals.

The book was written by the late Tony Pagot, and illustrated by Sergio Toppi, one of Italy's most popular illustrators. Editor Anthony Tarzia presented a copy to the Pope last year.

According to Maria Re, Pope John Paul responded, “You have done a good job. I hope that children appreciate it. Bravi!”

Karol Wojtyla is not the first time that the Holy Father's story has been presented in comic book art. Marvel Comics released the first English version of The Life of Pope John Paul II in 1982. Unlike that version, Karol Wojtyla is bound with a hard cover. Il Giornalino similarly bound the Society's Holy Bible in comic book form.

Books by and about the Holy Father have been quite popular. Another children's story about the life of John Paul II, although not a comic book, was published by Pauline Books and Media in the United States Titled Karol of Poland, that book has already had several print runs, said Sister Patricia Edward Jablonski.

Mutual Affection

“Many books have already been written on the Pope,” notes Cardinal Sepe in the comic book's introduction, “so it gives me even more pleasure to see that the editors have chosen ... a comic book, aimed specifically at the younger reader. The Holy Father — as we saw again during the World Youth Day and in his encounters with children — has a particular affection for the young, which they return equally.

“Comic books are exciting and get to the point, and in this life of the Holy Father, Sergio Toppi and Tony Pagot help us to get to know the present Pope: his spontaneity, his burning desire to meet all peoples and every person and to invite them to be not afraid to open their hearts to Christ, his forgiving of the man who shot him, his considerable contribution to peace and to the dialogue between religions, his defense of life and protection of its dignity, his countless words of faith and hope.”

Concludes Cardinal Sepe, “My wish is that all readers of this volume, both young and old, might draw inspiration from it to live and give witness to their own faith in Jesus Christ.”

Tim Drake is executive editor of