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Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

A Child is Born is a work for passion for Billy Tucci. I just had the opportunity to chat with the in-demand comic book writer/illustrator about his latest work, a masterfully-rendered graphic novel telling of the Nativity story available in comic book stores and  and at his newly-developed  Apostle Arts website.  I have a copy and I can tell you that each panel is like a work of art in-and-of-itself and as a whole it stands as an example of beautiful storytelling.

Billy’s name is one known to anyone who seriously follows comics.  As the creator of epic heroine Shi, he is one of the most-successful writer/illustrator’s in the business whose notable works include the well-received six-part miniseries Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion.

Here are some highlights of our conversation:

JWK: What led create this book?

BILLY TUCCI:  For at least ten years now, it’s just been something that has really been on my mind to. (It’s been) a real passion project of mine.  But, you know how it is. You have several doubts — am I the one to do this book?, first and foremost. Am I talented enough to take this on?  And, secondly, I’ve been real lucky in this business.  Those of us who make it, we can make a really good living doing it and I have and, again, I’ve been really blessed…So, this really would be a labor of love…

…I’ve always been very spiritual. I’m a Catholic. I wasn’t really raised a Catholic.  We never went to church but when I went into the Army after college is when I got my first Holy Communion…I would go help out at the church because I wanted to receive my first Holy Communion. So, I had a nice book and I studied and it was terrific.

Then last year, in June of 2010, my wife (Deborah) was diagnosed with breast cancer and she just had…a terrible year and a half  – from the surgeries to the chemotherapy to all the medication to just the psychological torment. It was a tough, tough year for us – ‘cause now I’m , you know, playing Mr. Mom and to be honest with you, I can’t make macaroni and cheese.

JWK: How many kids do you have?

BILLY TUCCI: We have two boys.  I’m so spoiled…I’ve known my wife since college and she’s been doing my laundry, paying all the bills, everything like that. Even in school, I had a phone bill in my room and she took care of that. I never paid it. You know, I’d just give her my checkbook and stuff. I guess I had to grow up. So, it was tough but it wasn’t so bad because we really came together.  I mean we had a really strong marriage before that.

JWK: How long are you married?

BILLY TUCCI: 13 years.  But this really opens your eyes to what’s really important – like, you know, family and faith and having God in your life. You’ve got a friend, you know, in God and He’s the most powerful entity the universe has ever known, the One that created it all. So,  your  strong…with Jesus by your side,  if you just recognize it and open your heart to Him. It was really good  and it got to the point where I’m like “I want to do this book!”  And she said “Go for it!”

JWK: How is she now?

BILLY TUCCI: She’s doing great.  She’s still gonna be on medication for the next five years  but, as of now, she’s all cancer free  so thank God for that.

(Getting back to) how the book came to be,  a year ago I was in Austin for a convention  and met Evan Archilla. Evan’s  grandfather (Lt. Colonel Eliel Archilla) was one of the heroes of The Lost Battalion books. Evan came from the San Antonio area just to meet me and we just hit it off like that.  Going out to dinner that night, he just hit me with “So, you’ve done your magnum opus. Do you believe this is your magnum opus?”

And I said “Well, no, to be honest with you. What I really want to do is I want to tell the story of Christ. I want to do the Christmas story.” I never told anybody that. For some reason, I told him and he thought it was real interesting and I got a call from him about a week or two later.

(Evan invited Billy back to Texas where he introduced him to his friend Jason Peet. They wanted to know if he’d be interested in partners in making his dream come true.)

BILLY TUCCI: We just hit it off like pea and carrots, the three of us, and we all had the same common goal…The most important thing is the message. It’s to try to spread the Word of God…the true meaning of Christmas.  And that is more important than anything else.

You know, if we sell 50 copies of this , so what? What a great adventure!  If we sell a million copies of this, well , the more we can give to charities. We’re already partnered up with World Vision. That’s a really terrific charity and they help people all over the world.

The three of us just went on this adventure. I just started studying up on it more and more and, of course , you know the basics of the Christmas story but if you look at it in (the Gospels of) Matthew and Luke — aside from a few lines, a few verses in the Old Testament — it’s minuscule compared to the entire Bible…

…So, there’s a lot holes to be filled but you want to stay true to the Gospels. So, that’s when I started researching and reading…Ben Witherington, Darrell Bock, all these guys, these Nativity scholars (and) working with local churches and asking them (for help)…But, of course, it all came back down to what’s in Matthew and Luke. (That) is really what the book is based on — to keep to that but to try and add a human element to it.

JWK:  To tell the story. you and your partners founded Apostle Arts. Will you produce more books?

BILLY TUCCI: That’s our plan.  We’re looking to do some children’s books. I really want to do Seven Days, about the Easter story.  I would love to do that for Easter 2013.

JWK: Seven Days?

BILLY TUCCI: I’d call it Seven Days.  Just think of those Seven Days and how they changed the world and saved the world, really.  That’s what we’re hoping to do next  and to really do a lot of Christian-themed books. Perhaps they may not be Biblical accounts but using metaphors and analogies for the Bible. You know, take the stories and maybe put them into modern situations.

JWK: Are you talking about developing a whole new line of comic books?

BILLY TUCCI: Absolutely!  Add some kind of light to the comic book industry…

…(Back to A Child is Born), I gotta tell you, God told me to do it…I felt it in my heart. And, if I have faith in Him, He’ll have faith in me and help me every step of the way.

JWK: Why’d you become a Catholic?

BILLY TUCCI: My wife’s Catholic. I’ve always been very spiritual. I’ve always believed in God. I just never had that…

We had a family tragedy. My brother  was killed in a car accident by some drunk driver and my mother’s a widow so I think she might have lost her faith…

…Meeting my wife and going to church on Christmas, I really liked it.  She’s a churchgoer and always has been.  I just feel very comfortable there.  I feel very comfortable in the Catholic Church. I feel very comfortable in the Greek Orthodox Church.  I feel secure there even if you’re just sitting within the walls of the church. It just that…positive energy, God’s love that’s vibrating through it, abounding through it.  It’s a place of comfort and it’s very inspiring…even in my darkest moments when I’ve gone there…You know, I don’t need a church now.  I can be up in the mountains.  I hunt and I fish. I can be out on a boat by myself and just at a lake or something and just think (about God’s love) and it’s wonderful. It really is.

JWK: Tell me about Shi? That also has a lot of spiritual themes running through it.

BILLY TUCCI: Oh, sure.  Shi – Ana Ishikawa, the main character – she’s a product of two cultures. One is her mother who is Catholic and worked as a Catholic missionary after (Ana’s) father’s death and then you have a her grandfather’s side where he pretty much raised her…and this samurai mentality.  He was really raising her to partake in the war (with) another sect of medieval samurai…Of course, through the course of the story  she finds her faith  and realizes that this isn’t right and now the whole point is that she’s become the hunted and she has to use her wits…In the beginning it’s like a war story where there’s killing…and now she has to turn that around.

It’s a big story about forgiveness, responsibility. I’ve been real lucky with it. It’s what led me to be able to talk with you on the phone.  If that book wasn’t so successful I would not be here right now.

JWK: Does including spiritual themes add to the richness of  a traditional superhero story?

BILLY TUCCI: There are great one-dimensional characters – like say Captain America who is good and pure and Superman — but not everyone is like that. Ana (of Shi)  isn’t any sort of a  super hero. She has no superpowers and there’s a lot of gray in it – like life…But, then again, I always feel that there are two powers in the universe. There is good and there is evil and it depends what side you listen to and which path you decide to follow.

JWK: Besides Seven Days, what other projects are you planning?

BILLY TUCCI: I’m doing a couple of books. Hopefully, I’ll be doing another Sgt. Rock book. I did Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion. I’m just a huge advocate of the American soldier…and how these men go so far to foreign lands to help and to die for people they’ve never met.

We have a new Shi series coming out in the new year, as well.

JWK: Any plans to get into movies or television?

BILLY TUCCI: Hopefully. We’ll see. We have a film deal right now about Shi. We have a  producer, Mimi Gitlin (Thelma & Louise), so it looks good.  Say a prayer for me, please.

JWK: Will do.

Again, A Child is Born is available at local comic book stores (where I’m told they can’t keep them on their shelves) and at ApostleArts.com.  There you can buy individual copies, six packs or in bulk (for churches and organizations).

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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