HarperCollins Christian Publishing’s Thomas Nelson group is launching a new graphic novel initiative, Vital Shift, to be announced Thursday (Oct. 10) at New York Comic Con. Seven graphic novels series for readers 18-34 will be published between now and 2019; Messiah: Origin, the first in the Messiah series, releases this week.
Vital Shift follows on the success of Zondervan’s The Book of Revelation (2012), which, according to Zondervan, sold 20,000 copies during the first six weeks of its release, topped only by Image Comics’ The Walking Dead as it rode the coattails of the season three premiere of the popular AMC series. Prior to The Book Of Revelation, Zondervan had only published graphic novels for children. Chip Brown, senior v-p and publisher at HCCP, will lead Vital Shift for Thomas Nelson; he told PW the name refers not only to the recent and ongoing shifts in traditional media and the culture, but also to the fact that “Jesus was the vital shift in history. Even our calendar revolves around that.”
Why go after the 18-34 demographic? Brown explained there are plenty of Bibles and books based on it for children, tweens, women, men—but they are virtually all bought by one customer: women. “This product is intended to be purchased by the end user,” he said. He noted that Christians in the college- and post-college age group are often questioning their faith and leaving the church. There also is a lack of biblical literacy today. “Graphic novels are the stained glass for this century,” said Brown. “We want to create [graphic novels] that are as good or better than anything out there.”
It can be hard to get graphic novels with religion content into comics stores, but, said Brown, with social media, online searches, and consumer reviews, “people will find this product. I have no doubt about that.” The Christian market is a sizable one, he pointed out, and this seems to be a moment for crossover to the general culture, not only with high-profile books, but also with feature films and television series. “Duck Dynasty isn’t about Christianity, but it reflects those values,” he said.
Messiah: Origin, which tells the story of Jesus' early life and ministry, was translated by Fr. Mark Arey from ancient Greek manuscripts of the four Gospels; Matt Dorff adapted and edited the text into graphic novel form. Both also were on the creative team for Revelation. Lucasfilm Prize-winning artist Kai Carpenter has created 288 illustrations for Messiah: Origin; letters and title design are by Carlton Riffel. Said Brown, “Messiah: Origin is high-quality, hand painted fine art,” adding that a gallery showing in Manhattan is planned for December, with dates to be announced.
An early version of this article stated that Vital Shift would be operated under Zondervan; HCCP has since told PW it will be under Thomas Nelson.