Is faith funny? Cuyler Black thinks it is.
"I believe that God is a God of joy," says Black, who draws cartoons about the funny side of Christianity.
"When Jesus talks about heaven, he talks about a banquet or wedding, a place of joy and laughter," he says. "Laughter is a part of who God is."
Born into a preacher's family in Ottawa, Black, 44, started cartooning at the age of 10 for a local newspaper. At age 17, he produced another comic strip about high school life for the Ottawa Citizen; it ran for 12 years. Another comic was syndicated from 1996 to 1998 in about a dozen newspapers before he decided to become a youth minister.
"I decided I didn't want to be chained to my drawing table, so I dove into youth ministry," he says.
His first job was at an Anglican church in London, Ont. In 2000, he moved to an Episcopal Church in Richfield, Conn. Cartooning was left behind until 2003, when he drew a few to raise money for a youth mission trip.
"People really liked them," he says of the cartoons, which depicted the funny side of faith. "They asked me to make more."
As demand for his cartoons grew, he pondered going back to cartooning full time.
"I checked out Christian bookstores and discovered there was a humour deficit in the Christian marketplace," he says. "I thought I might try to fill it."
What bothered him most were the greeting cards he saw in Christian bookstores. "They were all pretty much the same," he says. "Often sappy, sentimental, with a Bible verse attached."
He printed up some cards for a local stationery store. They sold well, so he decided to give cartooning another try by starting Inherit the Mirth, a company that produces his unique brand of humorous greeting cards, calendars, books and other products.
He acknowledges that not everyone will appreciate his humour, which has been described as The Far Side meets the Bible.
In one cartoon, for example, a younger bearded man is wearing a robe and riding a skateboard over a building. The caption: "Jesus clears the temple."
In another, an older bearded man is doing his laundry, putting light clothes into the washer and leaving darker items in the basket. The caption: "And God separated the light from the dark."
A third shows two bearded men in robes playing basketball. One stops the other from scoring. The caption on this one: "While playing a lively game of pick-up basketball, Peter denies Jesus three times."
"Not everyone is going to find them funny," says Black of the cartoons. But his goal is not to make fun of Christianity -- just to make people laugh.
"I'm not making fun of faith, and I don't want people to think I don't take church seriously," he says. "I consider my cartoons to be playfully reverent, or reverently playful... I love God. I'm excited to help emphasize an often underappreciated facet of His personality -- His humour."
Black has, in fact, only received a couple of complaints. Which is pretty good, considering that most of his sales are in the American Bible Belt.
Those who aren't religious also seem to like his cartoons, he says. "Many people say to me 'I'm non-religious, but your stuff is really funny,'" Black says.
In addition to his greeting cards, Black has published two children's books and a collection of cartoons called What's That Funny Look on Your Faith? He's also exploring animated e-cards and applications for phones.
"My goal is to encourage Christians to lighten up. We don't need to feel we have to check our sense of humour at the door when we go to church," he says. "I think God wants to use me to help show a side of who He is."
More information about Cuyler Black can be found at www.inheritthemirth.com.