Almost everywhere one travels in Madrid this August, there will be a free-for-the-taking comic book titled “Habemus Papam!” with a beaming Pope Benedict XVI on the cover, that aims to introduce a pope that young people in particular may not know well.
The style of the 32-page comic is called manga, a Japanese creation, with bold, exaggerated drawings of characters that help tell a story about Benedict, who, says the publisher, Jonathan Lin, “is a gentle, wise, very brilliant pope who deeply cares about his flock.” The title — “We Have a Pope” — is the announcement given in Latin upon the election of a new pope.
Lin is the founder and publisher of Manga Hero, a San Rafael-based company that produces the Japanese-style comics with Catholic themes. This month he is preparing to print 300,000 copies of the Pope Benedict comic book for the World Youth Day audience, Aug. 16-21, in Madrid. Printed in both English and Spanish, the comic books will be everywhere — at churches, schools, hotels and hostels, metro stations, the airport, information kiosks, tourist attractions and other event locations, said Lin.
World Youth Day, launched by Pope John Paul II in 1985, is a youth-oriented Catholic Church event that draws hundreds of thousands of young people from throughout the world — a ready audience for a modern media introduction to Pope Benedict, but also a promotional opportunity for Manga Hero, which found a Catholic-centered niche.
Lin, 36, is a graduate of two Jesuit institutions, St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco, with a degree in economics from College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. His career has taken him from market research to commercial banking to Internet-based work, then back to school at Babson College in Massachusetts for a master of business administration degree then to the family business of food importing and distribution and on to toy industry.
Hashing out entrepreneurial ideas with his father, the absence of manga — or anime-style presentations of biblical stories — came up, and in 2010 Manga Hero was born.
In the past decade, said Lin, manga has had an enormous growth in popularity around the world, with millions of children and adults drawn to the medium that originated in Japan. The graphic novels feature a wide range of stories and have broad appeal — with 60 percent of manga readers female.
“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.”
Lin noted that Pope John Paul II had called for the use of new forms of media to reach young people in order to build a “culture of love and dignity,” and that manga is one such medium.
Manga Hero has produced longer works about Judith and St. Paul, as Lin’s theory is this: “Rather than looking up to heroes who may be vampires or space cowboys, we have real heroes, people who actually existed.”
He added, “My thinking was, manga is awfully popular, so let’s create stories that are not Pollyannaish, they are not cheesy, but come up with good stories that, while they are initially not used as Catechism tools per se, they actually are a form of entertainment to spark some kind of interest in our faith.”
The company is also currently developing a book about Jesus’ parable about the wedding banquet. It plans a second edition, longer book about Pope Benedict that explores more of his biography and the challenges he faces. Long-term, there are plans for books about Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa and St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar who, while imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz in 1941, volunteered to take the place of one of 10 inmates to be starved to death, after the other man cried out, “My wife! My children.”
Growth and more titles for Manga Hero will require adding to the company roster, which today includes Lin, two writers based in San Diego, Gabrielle Gniewek and Matthew Salisbury, and an illustrator in Singapore, Sean Lam. There may be an opening for a writer: Gniewek is discerning religious life.
There’s more information about the company at www.mangahero.com.
From the June 10, 2011, issue of Catholic San Francisco.