A Comic Strip That Borders Heaven

Timazi Magazine of Kenya recently featured part one of “Big Day,” a comic stripcomic birthed by friendships made at MAI’s LittWorld 2012 conference. There John and Maggie Gathuku, who lead the Christian youth magazine, met Mexican illustrator José Carlos Gutiérrez (right in photo below) and author Ivanova Nono Fotso of Cameroon (left in photo).

José Carlos crafted illustrations for the comic script written by Ivanova, and submitted the comic to Timazi. When José Carlos’ computer crashed, Timazi’s designer in Kenya, James Njoroge, completed coloring the illustrations.

The seven-page comic, based on the Parable of the Ten Virgins, will be published in three issues of the magazine.

ivanova-jose-carlos-by-ian-darke-cropped-resized“This comic has a great emotional value since I started the drawings and sketches in a hospital room, a few months after returning from Littworld,” José Carlos said. His 21-year-old brother had been diagnosed with leukemia and began chemo treatments.

“He got saved in that same hospital as I prayed with him at the very beginning of his treatment,” José Carlos recalled. On the same day that his brother passed away, José Carlos completed inking the comic at the hospital.

Today comic books are the world’s most widely-read type of popular literature, capturing the interest of both children and adults. Christian publishers around the world are harnessing the genre to spread the Gospel.

Maggie hopes that “by reading this comic strip, students will understand and appreciate the message of our Lord Jesus Christ by preparing well for His coming.”

How Beautiful Format Saved My Life

The following true story comes from a reliable source and concerns a beautiful Arabic edition of the Gospel of Luke. We are sharing this with permission from the author:

Some years ago I got a phone call that nearly killed me.

My wife and I were living in a flat-roofed house in a city in Central Asia with our four small Central_Asia mapchildren. A local friend of mine called to ask me to meet with the leadership of a militant group who were quickly overrunning the neighboring country. He wanted me to take an unmarked taxi to the “wrong” side of town to house 12B at midnight. There the leader would be waiting for me.

Why would I even consider going on such a foolish errand you may ask? Long ago I had,  at least theoretically, decided to put myself under local believers. My friend was a local believer from a Muslim background.

A year earlier he had been rounded up as a dissident, and been locked in one of Central Asia’s most infamous jails in the capital city. With him were a small cadre of men who opposed the current regime. These men clung together in the most horrific of conditions. With little food, poor sanitation, freezing cold and frequent beatings one or two men died every night. The survivors formed strong bonds of friendship that would last a lifetime.

Later the others who survived would go on to lead the militant movement, and my friend went the other way – finding Jesus and visiting me weekly to study and pray. I was deeply touched by his transparent prayer life and his open confession of weakness, precious evidence of how the Lamb had touched his life.

So he called me to share the story with these men who now were leading one of the most fearsome militant groups on the planet. Torture, kidnapping, beheadings, IEDs and suicide bombings were child’s play for them. They were rabidly opposed to Christ and especially to Westerners – like myself.

Gospel of Luke study arabic

Arabic Gospel of Luke (not the one referred to in the article)

I prayed with my wife and thought about what Scripture portion to take as a gift. I had just been given six copies of Luke’s Gospel beautifully printed in Arabic. While not the local language, I knew it was the most respected language, the language of heaven. I slipped one copy under my jacket and caught a taxi to meet my fate. I was not sure I would return, but felt joy in obediently following my friend’s request.

I was thrilled when the taxi driver could not find the house. “I’m off the hook,” I thought to myself. “I have been obedient, but the Lord has other plans.”

“Let’s go back,” I told the driver.

“Hang on, one more street to check,” he said.

And there was 12B, the house ringed by men holding Kalashnikovs. I wished the driver would just keep going, but he stopped. I stepped out and a large bearded man said, “Are you Ahmed (my local name)?”

“Yes.”

“The boss has been waiting for you.”

He searched me, and somehow did not feel the Bible pressed against my trembling chest. He ushered me into a large hall lined with armed men. At one end a neatly dressed man with hard blue eyes was squatting on a raised stage. I was ushered toward him. We exchanged greetings and he beckoned me to sit with him on the stage. I removed my shoes and timidly began to sit. I sensed that all the eyes in the room were intently watching me – like spiders watching a fly landing on the web. I was the fly, now trapped.

I was surprised when the leader nodded to his deputy to dismiss all the men. Only the two of us were left, face to face on the mat. “So, my friend told me you have something to share with me?”

Such was my fear that even at this point, though I had the Bible and was ready to share, I did not want to. I had no idea how open I should be, or what line I might cross that would cause me to be the next victim. But suddenly I felt calm and relaxed. Is this what the verse about the Holy Spirit giving us words to say means?

“Well, I came to bring you Good News.” I used a special word used for the kind of good news carried to relatives when a son is born in a family. I was carrying the Good News to the man of very high rank, who from his hard eyes I could tell, had ordered men to be killed.

I felt a great relief that I had a Bible of high quality and beautiful appearance stuffed under my jacket. At this point to have handed him a small tract or poorly printed Bible would have been an insult.

I notice he hesitated, thinking perhaps I was reaching for a gun when I reached under my jacket. “This is a translation of the Holy Injil,” I quickly interjected.

Then I passed him the Gospel wrapped in a special cloth.

To my surprise he smiled for the first time.

“I have been waiting a long time to read this,” he said as he reverently held the book up to his lips and kissed it.  “Tell me what it says,” he asked.

As he held the beautiful book I felt freedom to gently tell the story. I felt great calm and caught a tiny insight into how much the Lord loved him.

About half an hour later I wrapped up the story, he kissed the book again and said the most remarkable words: “This is a holy book and I will insist that all my field commanders read it.”

I was sure that the appearance of the book – its Islamic style calligraphy, cover and introduction all added to its credibility, and had saved my life.

The Ten Commandments of What Makes a Good (or Bad) Website

This article was adapted from MAI’s recent webinar, “Build a Better Publishing House Website,” with Sam Richardson, CEO of SPCK Sam Richardson 2Publishers.

A good publisher website is one that meets the needs of different users. But a great publisher website increases the reach of the publisher beyond these audiences. To go from good to great, you first need to do the basics right in order to attract consumers and stop annoying them.

1. Your website must come up when you search for your company name on Google. This is easier if you have a unique name. If you have a common name like “Bible publisher” it will be hard for people to find you. If you have a common name with a lot of competition, consider paying for Google key words to ensure people can find you on Google.

2. Your website must not automatically play sound and video. It can be very embarrassing if you’re sitting in the middle of an office. It’s considered outdated.

3. Your website must be responsive (compatible with multiple devices—like tablets, smartphones, etc.). Google relegates websites lower in searches if they aren’t responsive, so it’s increasingly important to be compatible.

4. You must not have an ugly homepage. The  homepage (landing page) of your website is the first thing that people see about you. It’s a great chance to show people your beautiful ads and book covers, as well as your great words. Make the most of your assets.

5. You must not have an unclear menu structure. Whether your menu is down the left side or along the top, which is more popular now, it’s really important people can find your contact information, your store (shop), etc.

6. You must update your homepage regularly. Your super fans, those you really want to connect with, may visit your website every week. If you show them updated contact, it will encourage them to come back. Rotate your titles on the front page, show your social media links, post news items. There are many things you can do without much work.

7. You must not have broken links. If you can get rid of them on your website, this will improve your search engine ranking on Google and Yahoo a lot.

8. You must not hide your contact details. Customers often go to your website because they’re looking for your contact information. It’s tempting to try and hide them, but that will frustrate people. Consider setting up an email address just for website inquiries. People are happier sending an email than filling in a web form.

9. You shall have one website only. We used to have one web site for SPCK as a mission agency and one for our publishing. It confused Google, Yahoo, our customers and retailers. Have only one website if at all possible.

10. The user must be able to find what she wants. Different users have different needs.

Watch the full video of “Build a Better Publishing House Website.”

Check out our upcoming free webinars on publishing-related topics and videos of recent webinars.

Are you stuck?

Where do new ideas come from? Michael Collie of SPCK Australia challenges you to “think outside the box” with these creative tips.

The brain was designed to think habitually.  If we want to think creatively we need to circumvent this.  Three ways to avoid habitual thinking include:

1)       Introduce a random idea. Example:  When designing a book cover about worship, introduce an unrelated item such as a curtain pulley.  Connect the object to the theme.

2)      Reduce material to essential content. Example:  When choosing a cover for a book about letter writing, simplify the theme to “expressing intimacy.”  Visualize something that introduces loneliness.

3)      Invert the idea to create something new. Example:  When writing a comic book about Joseph use a female protagonist, Josephine, instead of a male protagonist.

What other ideas do you have for getting “un-stuck”?

This LittWorld 2012 video was shot and produced by Good News Productions in Nairobi, Kenya, for MAI .

The Design Doctor’s Advice: Befriend a bookseller

Michael Collie is a graphic designer and the national director of  the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge Australia. He offers this tried and true advice on how to test the market for your book’s cover.

Have you found another effective way to test your book(s) and cover(s) with the market? Tell us. 

This video is one of a series of 3-5 minute teaching videos based on workshops led by top international Christian publishing professionals at LittWorld 2012 in Kenya. We give thanks for the dozens of dedicated men and women who serve as our volunteer trainers, many of whom shared their expertise in these videos.

These mini videos on writing, editing, marketing, design, digital publishing, leadership, and more, were shot and produced by Good News Productions, enabling MAI to bring them to you.