A Brief History of Catholic Comic Books

The tradition of publishing comic books for young Catholics is still alive and well

Over the past decade, Marvel, DC Comics, and major production studios such as Sony Entertainment and Warner Brothers have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in developing a new genre of movies, video games and television shows based on fictional characters such as Captain America, Iron Man, Spiderman, Daredevil, X Men etc. This explosion of new ‘superhero’ content and demand is a reflection of our love for heroic adventure, the battle between good and evil, and the virtues of duty, selflessness, magnanimity and service.

The success of this genre has been built upon several decades of content written to entertain and inspire children, parents and young adults across all generations concerning factual historical events, current events and family friendly entertainment that is for the most part clean. The recent popularity of the Marvel cinematic universe and events such as Comic Con is a reflection of a deep love for ‘superheroes’ combat ‘villains’ in order to protect the weak and the innocent. The popularity of such comic books, movies and television shows is to inspire people to be the best versions of themselves and to fight against injustice.

In the 1940s and 50s, lay Catholics in the United States saw an opportunity to use comic books as a means of reaching out to children, teens and young adults to inspire them with stories about the Saints, the values of good citizenship, the cultivation of virtue and current events that were and still are, undermining the freedom and dignity of the human person.

During this time period, the Catechetical Guild Educational Society of St. Paul, Minnesota published a series of excellent comic books written by staunch no nonsense Catholics on Saints such as St. Vincent de Paul, St. Joan of Arc, Pope Pius XII, Cardinal József Mindszenty, Jesuit Missionaries in Canada, the Mexican Martyrs, the life of our Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Fatima, the Life of Our Lord, and other topics concerning the dangers of communism, moral relativism and the threats of totalitarianism as seen below.

“Is this Tomorrow, America under Communism”, warnings about efforts being undertaken to undermine the sanctity and dignity of human life, Published in 1947.

These comic books where primarily published for Catholic schools, parishes and youth groups with a deep desire to form and minister to youth and families. The caliber, quality and depth of content published during this period is something truly remarkable and still applicable for all readers today, whether they may be a school boy or girl, a young adult in college, a seminarian, a religious sister or even grandparents who may have read these books growing up.

Between 1946 to 1972, George A. Pflaum, a devout Catholic and owner of the Pflaum Publishing Company of Dayton, Ohio published, the ‘Treasure Chest of Fun & Facts’, a Catholic publication of short stories and comics on current events, history, short stories, the lives of Saints, biblical passages, sports and programs for Catholic students in schools and parishes. One of the most notable writers for these comic books was John Tartaglione, a native of Brooklynn, New York who played a key role in providing excellent content that was relevant but entertaining for Catholic school kids. The comic books covered a wide spread of information that would make it entertaining for children and youth to read during their free time.

Mr. John Tartaglione was also responsible in his later career for getting Marvel to publish Catholic comic books on Mother Teresa of Calcutta, during her visit to the United States in 1984 and a biography of St. John Paul II, also written by John and his team. Around this time, a young Franciscan Capuchin, Fr. Roy Gasnick OFM of the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province, New York, published two comic books and one illustrated book on St. Francis in the 1980s and early 90s: Francis, Brother of the Universe, Marvel, 1980, Serra: American Founding Father, 1987- (Blessed Junipero Serra responsible for establishing the Spanish Missions in California and Mexico) and Francis of Assisi: The Song Goes on, 1984 – illustrated books on St. Francis.

On the left, Mother Teresa of Calcutta published by Marvel, 1984 on the right a comic book about St. John Bosco and his guardian dog, Grigio who saved him on many occasions from criminals. Many Salesian Missions across the world keep the tradition of naming their dogs after Grigio to take care of their priests and religious sisters working in foreign missions.
A ‘Manga’ comic book published by Regina Doman, 2017 Art by Sean Lam, 2017

Today, the tradition of publishing comic books for young Catholics is still alive and well, there are many writers and illustrators dedicated to providing good content to readers. Such forms of communication and art, tells the truth about the Church, the factual lives of the Saints and those who serve the Church, giving them authenticity, and an authentic message to all readers about the true mission of the Church in this world that is rooted in Truth and in the messages of the gospels.

Furthermore, they also seek to form readers on the importance of living the life of virtue, the sacramental life and having a deep relationship with God to be an everyday hero in one’s family and community. Catholic Comic Books of the past and present share much in common with their secular counterparts, they both seek to form readers with a deep responsibility to make a positive contribution to society and make a difference to those who need it the most.

Street art in Rome, depicting with Pope Francis with the virtue of valor written on his briefcase. Artwork by Italian Street Artist, Maupal, 2014

Feature and inset photographs courtesy of DC Comics, Marvel, Catholic Univerity and Regina Doman Publishing.

Text by Joel Fernandes

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