So, let me tell you a story. One day, I signed on to Facebook and was tagged in a note called Freestyle Friday. Justin Martin had previously invited me to drop a couple of raps in a little freestyle session he hosted weekly on his page. I’m not going to say that I’m the heavy weight rap champion of the world, but I had proven that I had skills to people who doubted me because I’m a girl. So when I saw the note, I walked into it with my chest all puffed out thinking, yeah, I got this!
I was the first to drop a few bars. You know, the usual braggadocious flows that you commonly hear in any cypher. Not this one, my friends. I started noticing that people were dropping these sick rhymes about the state of hip hop, the plight of the world, how to make it a better place, the human condition, and the unconditional love of God.
Here I was spitting rhymes probably in the vein of,
my Bic’s a Beretta, I’ll silence u like a Moretta for thinking you can flow better,
while everyone else is talking about helping his fellow man. I stood out like a sore thumb while crickets chirped in the backdrop of my hubris. This wasn’t your regular, prove how much better you are than the next person type of cypher, but a collaborative one instead. For those of you who might not be into hip hop, I can’t tell you how incredibly easy it is to write a rhyme where all you do is brag about yourself. But to write about something with substance, something that is going to make people think, is infinitely more difficult because it actually requires you to reflect on the root cause of a problem, break it down, and reconstruct it into an interesting rhyme that people can vibe to and at the same time understand.
Justin’s approach to doing away with the self-fulfillment of simply bragging in cyphers, and instead introducing a platform where people could raise pertinent social dilemmas through the art of rhyming, is what made me interested in what he was doing as a writer of Christian-themed comics.
When Justin was young, his father worked on oil rigs in Alaska and was gone for two to three weeks at a time. His mother also worked full-time, so as a result, he spent much of his formative years growing up with his Aunt Dottie. It was she who instilled in him the Christian values and beliefs that would eventually find its way into his writing. However, Justin faces a unique challenge in that, unlike mainstream comics, Christian-themed comics are often disregarded before they are even given a chance.
“I think when something is labeled ‘Christian’ or ‘religious,’ people tend to conceive of that thing as having certain characteristics. I feel like some of the most common associations with these characteristics are corny, preachy, close-minded, and discriminatory,” Justin explains. “But just as we as Christians need to do a better job of not being close-minded to non-Christians, I think some non-Christians can also do a better job of not lumping all Christians into one stereotypical category, especially the same category as the Christians who historically and to some degree currently tend to judge, ostracize, and harm others in the name of religion.” Justin is doing everything in his power as a writer to not be lumped into that category, while understanding that some of the responsibility will inevitably fall on the readers themselves. This is the approach he has taken while writing his story, Lightweightz, about a group of teenagers who develop a unique set of interpersonal abilities that will test their beliefs, worldviews, and interactions with other characters, for better or for worse.
“The problems they will face stem from me trying to reflect the real world the best way I feel I can at the moment, as I am still growing and working out some things with my own faith,” Justin says on the development of the characters. “On some level, each of the characters will be tested with regards to their faith in humanity, relationships, and themselves.”
Justin hopes to approach the writing of the comic from a character-driven, human point-of-view making it relatable to everyone no matter what their beliefs are. “Regardless of the genre, I think at the end of the day, the connection between the readers and the characters is what gives a story the most potency.” Justin says. “The common ground is the characters, and the things they experience as they try to make sense of themselves, their role in the world, and how to relate to others. And it’s that common ground that I hope my readers will find both relevant to their lives as well as entertaining.”
Justin has admitted that he believes that the biggest challenge in being a creator of Christian-themed comics is not getting boxed into a particular genre or category that would significantly limit the amount of potential readers. “This is actually the main reason why I decided to label my comics Christian-themed as opposed to Christian comics. I believe the former approach better enables me to tell stories that are relevant to all people, regardless of their background or belief system,” he says. The truth is, generally speaking, once people hear any interjection of religion as the central theme of a comic book, it turns many potential readers off. One thing that I sincerely love about Justin’s approach is that he is not trying to spoon-feed anyone his beliefs, but instead approaches his writing from the common experience of the human condition.
“That doesn’t mean I’m going to hide or water down my beliefs, but I’m not going to over-saturate my stories with those beliefs either. If your target includes non-Christians as well, then you have to make sure your stories deal with issues that those readers care about,” Justin says as he reflects on the challenges of being a writer of Christian-themed comic books. “If someone reads my comic and decides to investigate who Jesus is for themselves then great! If not, then hopefully they enjoyed the comic because it was a great story, and addressed issues that they care about. At the end of the day, my goal as a writer is to tell the best stories that I can, and do so from a Christian worldview.”
I’m a pretty simple person. A good story + delicious snacks = a happy Kia. I can tell that Justin really cares about creating and writing comics as a craft, and the fact that his approach is simply to write good stories that anyone can relate to means that he’s already golden in my book.
What more can you ask for?
Thanks for reading, guys. Until next time.
Justin Martin is currently a writer of Christian-themed comic books living in Oakland, California. He is currently working on The Story of Peter with illustrator Earnest Graham and is continuing his own property, Lightweightz. He is also working on a one-shot entitled Hydroland: Aftermath with artist, Mel Todd. You can follow Justin on his blog, where he conducts interviews with independent creators as well.
You can also check out Justin’s full interview with me here.