Mario DeMatteo Hopes to Reach Next Generation With Story of Apostle Paul in New Graphic Novel

Author Mario DeMatteo says he was inspired to write a graphic novel about Paul the Apostle for young people after he survived a horrific accident at age 20 that left him permanently paralyzed.

DeMatteo, the founder of Bear Truth Collective, was a fan of “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings” growing up, but it wasn’t until after he broke his neck in a freak accident in Costa Rica that he felt called to create similar kinds of stories. While recovering from the accident his faith in God was strengthened and DeMatteo felt led to create a children’s ministry tool about Paul the Apostle, and that’s what he did.

In his new graphic novel Paul, The ApostleDeMatteo created a colorful adventure that journeys through the book of Acts. Set in a futuristic world with cartoon characters, DeMatteo uses biblical values to share “the transforming power of redemption, Christ’s example of compassion and love,” and how “persecution of faith brings blessings.” He also encourages younger generations to “pursue their life calling,” similar to what he did after his accident by learning how to capitalize on his God-given passion to tell stories.

The following is an edited transcript of The Christian Post’s interview with DeMatteo where he describes how his faith brought him through his accident, accepting his paralysis, and inspired his graphic novel.

Christian Post: Why did you decide to create a futuristic graphic novel based on the life of Paul? 

DeMatteo: Comic books and graphic novels became an important part of my life after my accident. I fell in love with them. They took me on these beautiful journeys and gave me moments of rest from life on wheels. The writing, the art, the way you could freeze time in the middle of a moment and live in that space with the characters, it was extraordinary.

I quickly learned that comic books were way more sophisticated than I might have thought. All I really knew before then was “X-Men” and “Batman” and big fight scenes trying to save the world. I still love that stuff too, but I was learning it was a more important literary medium, with stories examining the human condition and the way people deal with suffering. There were love stories, sci-fi fantasy adventures, and hilarious romps. I devoured it all and slowly started to play with the idea that I might one day make comic books or graphic novels.

About six years after my accident and many comics devoured, I had a vision of Saul of Tarsus on a futuristic motorcycle hunting down Christians. At the time, I was reading NT Wright’s book, Paul: In Fresh Perspective.  It was one of the first times I really saw Paul’s life and the crazy historical context of the moment. I saw the fire in young Saul’s eyes on Damascus road riding on his beefy sci-fi machine, smoke and fire billowing from the engine. The vision just wouldn’t leave me.

I started researching Bible comic books and found a bunch of amazing books already created with realistic locations, humans and real animals — the Action Bible, the Kingstone Bible, and others. Those books are incredible ministry tools and I recommend them to this day, but I wanted something different, something that might grab the attention of a 10-year-old me. I was a child of the ’80s. I grew up with “Star Wars,” “He-Man,” “ET,” and the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” I think a lifetime of 80s pop culture started to develop the vision even further in my mind. I started to pray about the vision and the crazy journey it might be to bring it to life.

With the wise counsel of a few pastor friends of mine and many more hours of prayer, it soon became clear that making this vision a reality was going to be part of my life’s journey. And it’s amazing to say this, but as soon as I made the decision to go for it, God started opening up the doors. First was Brett Burner who became my production manager and mentor. He brought in a Christian comic book legend named Ben Avery and an up-and-coming illustrator named Mark Harmon. It really took a village to make this book. Without those super cool and creative men of God, I’m not sure if the book would have been made.

CP: What went into the choices of animals you chose for each Bible character?

DeMatteo: It was really difficult coming up with the many characters for the Paul book.  For one, we were experimenting with a concept that hadn’t really been done yet. So that was pretty scary. A lot of the characters from the book of Acts are my heroes — Paul, Peter, Stephen. What would they say if they saw themselves in cartoon creature form? Will people be offended by this new depiction of Bible heroes? Would people think it’s a joke? These and many other questions were rambling around in my head.

I wanted the characters to be creatures, but I also wanted them to be taken seriously and I wanted children to be able to look up to them and to learn from their actions. I definitely had “Veggie Tales” and “Star Wars” playing in the background during much of the development process.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Jeannie Law