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Cartoonist sees ‘goofy’ side of religion

Man Overboard offers subversive take on Christianity, church, life

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The comic strip Doonesbury is about politics. Dilbert pokes fun at workplace culture. And Pearls Before Swine exposes the general absurdity of life.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/03/2019 (1290 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The comic strip Doonesbury is about politics. Dilbert pokes fun at workplace culture. And Pearls Before Swine exposes the general absurdity of life.

But where can you find comic strips about religion?

One place people can turn to is Man Overboard, an online strip by Man Martin of Atlanta, Ga.

I recently came across the comic. I was immediately taken by its sly and subversive take on Christianity, theology, church and other topics involving religion and the meaning of life.

Wanting to know more, I reached out to Martin. I discovered the 59-year-old is an Episcopalian, a high school English teacher and a novelist.

He got his start in cartooning in the 1980s with a syndicated comic strip called Sibling Revelry. He left cartooning behind until three years ago, when he thought about creating a new syndicated strip.

“When it finally sank in that the newspaper comic strip was heading the way of the dodo and the northern white rhino, I cut loose and began drawing about whatever interested me instead of worrying about trying to be commercial,” he says, adding that he draws Man Overboard now “just for fun.”

What makes the strip interesting is how it assumes readers have basic biblical literacy, along with some knowledge of theology and church history. I asked if he worries if that might shut some people out.

“Maybe this is what accounts for people’s fondness for the cartoon,” he says. “In an era when organized religion is on the decline, it’s reassuring for people of faith to see cartoons about subject matter uniquely familiar to them.”

Some of his most loyal fans, he adds, are clergy.

He gets his material for the strip by observing what’s happening in the church, the world and from “personal experience, worship and scripture,” he says.

“The only difference is that in my case, religious ideas come out funny,” he says.

One ongoing source of inspiration is what he calls “one of the great themes of Christianity… the astonishing way people just don’t get it.”

“Jesus can explain something in words of one syllable to his disciples, and they’re all standing around in slack-jawed stupefaction as they try to figure out what he meant,” he says.

This continued on with the early church, with people “breaking into schisms” about dogma and doctrine, he says.

I asked if anyone has taken offence at the strip; after all, he does live in the buckle of the Bible Belt, and he portrays God as a takeoff on the eye and the pyramid on U.S. paper currency.

“Oddly, no one has ever taken offence at my religious-themed cartoons,” he says.

As for how he portrays God, “I chose it because, as images of God go, it is by far the weirdest and most preposterous,” he says, adding “showing God as a white guy with a beard isn’t nearly as goofy as showing Him as a one-eyed pyramid. And when you’re a cartoonist, goofy trumps all.”

Is there any religious subject he wouldn’t touch?

“Telling a cartoonist there’s a topic he can’t touch is like wearing a sign that says ‘Don’t kick me,’” he says. “As soon as I know something is out of bounds, I’m bound to go there.”

The strip, he says, mirrors his own effort to live faithfully.

“I like to call myself a ‘practising Christian,’” he says, noting this “implies that I still haven’t gotten it right, but I’m not done trying… my faith is about as weak as a reed. I struggle with it, and anticipate I’ll keep on struggling, which is why it so often forms a theme in my cartoons.”

Not all the strips are about religion; some touch on politics.

“Sometimes I dip my toe into political humour, usually not very adeptly and sometimes to the actual pain of friends and loved ones,” he says. “It’s not my best work. But the target is too big and juicy.”

Overall, he has no special grand purpose for the comic strip.

If it makes people “laugh, grimace or grunt, that’s good enough for me,” he says.

“Humour brings delight. What else would we ask from it? It just so happens, our notions about God and spirituality are a wonderful source of humorous material.”

You can find Man Overboard on Facebook and on his blog at manmartin.blogspot.com.

faith@freepress.mb.ca

 

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