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Religious cartoons: talking about God with a pencil

Next November 27 the Centre Religieux d’Information et d’Analyse de la Bande Dessinée, with headquarters in Brussels, will celebrate its 30 anniversary. Jesuit Fr Roland Francart is its founder and its “soul”

The term “cartoons” encompasses a populous universe with diversified “planets”, but on the whole it’s a very special universe where …there is also God. In fact, it is possible to speak of God with cartoons. Since 1985 the Religious Centre for Cartoons Information and Analysis (Centre Religieux d’Information et d’Analyse de la Bande Dessinée, CRIABD), seeks to “inform about the richness of Christian cartoons at the service of evangelization”. The Centre is a result of the passion of Jesuit Fr Roland Francart, one of the major experts in this field: “I like to draw, but I’m not an artist, and I’ve been reading cartoons since I was a child”, he said. Francart, a retired religion and philosophy teacher, grew up amidst Belgian classics such as the “national hero” Tintin, and Spirou, his favourite. “We used to speak a lot about cartoons at home, since also our mother enjoyed reading them, which is rare – he added – among women”. A great party will mark CRIABD’s 30th anniversary in Brussels on November 22nd (

How did the idea of CRIABD come about?
“I was familiar with the existence of international Catholic organizations for cinema and television at the time (OCIC and UNDA), so I thought of creating something similar also for the “ninth art’, i.e. cartoons. I wanted it to be ecumenical as well as international”.

What are your activities?

“Our interest is in cartoons centred on the Bible or on the life of the Saints.

Each year we look out for new publications in this field: usually we identify approximately twenty out of some 5 thousand new French-language cartoons, 2 thousand of which are manga. A panel of judges chooses the winner of the ‘Gabriel Prize’, in recognition of the good quality of the strips and of the fact that the storyline favours the faith, prayer, encourages religiousness or disseminates Christianity. In 2014 we awarded the ‘Poor Man’, on Francis of Assisi, a 600-page graphic novel. The ‘Human Value Prize’, is awarded to works that tell significant stories: in 2013, for example, the award went to a cartoon illustrating the story of Burmese Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. CRIABD also carries out promotional activity of Christian cartoons in religious and non-religious bookshops, also through ‘Gabriel’ magazine”.

What does your international and ecumenical profile consist in?
“We try to monitor every Country, and as far as our forces allow us to, we catalogue and collect the cartoons at the Centre de Documentation et de Recherche Religieuses (CDRR) in Namur University. In our researches we find strips that narrate Islam and the Quran, Buddhism or stories from the Orthodox tradition, such as ‘the Russian pilgrim.’ There are beautiful strips on the Bible throughout the Protestant world.

Today, how do cartoons compare to TV, videogames and chats?
“With not doubt, if a boy enters a room with the television on and a cartoon strips on the table, he will decide to watch TV. But if there’s a blackout … he could be attracted by the images on paper.

A learning process is needed for young people and for children.

However, they are familiar with cartoon strips. Perhaps, for adults, modern cartoons are not very appealing”.

Are you referring to the manga in particular?
“Manga, which simply means “cartoon” in Japanese, is a genre that became popular with Osamu Tezuka, the Japanese counterpart of Walt Disney, owing to its cheap, disposable newsprint, and to the fact that the characters are the same as TV cartoons. There is also a Christian manga: Kosumi Shinozawa and Hidenori Kumai, are two converted Japanese cartoonists who with the support of Japanese biblical Society have published a manga issue of the Bible translated into 17 languages, which sold millions of copies”.

Is it an impression, or are some cartoons not very appealing?

“Indeed, sometimes they are a bit dim compared to the current world of comics, so unattractive that one feels discouraged.

Often it’s a matter of resources: a good cartoonist and a good writer need to be well paid.

However, there also are exceptions such as the Don Bosco strip by Belgian cartoonist Jijé in 1941. It never went out of fashion. It continues being published and doing good, just as the recent ‘Poor Man’ by Robin, or Francis of Assisi by Dino Battaglia. They are all great cartoonist, although their strips are meant for adult readers. For the young, French cartoonist Jean-François Kieffer has authored many strips and was often translated. If our association were larger and richer we could do much more!”.

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