Creative Director Departs American Bible Society's Comics Imprint


Metron Press develops Scripture-based comics. (www.metronpress.com)
Metron Press, the comic book division of the American Bible Society, has lost its creative director due to differences over the press' direction.

Metron Press, the comic book division of the American Bible Society, has lost its creative director due to differences over the press' direction.

 

Mario Ruiz, the man who put Scripture-based "graphic novels" into production for ABS in 2001, departed the press in late June, citing ABS' decision "to editorially refocus the material to a dedicated Christian readership" as a reason for his resignation.

 

Ruiz, 37, delivered the graphic novels Samson: Judge of Israel and Testament in 2002 and 2003, respectively. Both projects received critical acclaim and prompted the press to put others into development.

 

But with a slate of graphic novels on the drawing board and two already in production (Joe: City of Dreams and Unforgiven), Ruiz announced his departure.

 

"I was creating more ministry tools for the church—for young kids to give their friends who would never pick up a Bible or talk about God," Ruiz told EthicsDaily.com from his home in upstate New York. ABS "didn't want to do that and commit themselves to that," he said.

 

Denise London, chief communications officer for ABS, said Ruiz's departure was routine.

 

"I think that he, like any other departure of any employee, put in his notice that he was going," London told EthicsDaily.com on the phone from her New York office. "I don't think there was something dramatic that was happening."

 

"It was an employee that departed from the job," she said. "I guess he was committed to a different direction for the graphic novels. But the departure was amicable."

 

Ruiz said he and ABS are still trying to determine ownership of the projects that were planned but never produced.

 

ABS owns Samson and Testament, as well as Joe and Unforgiven

 

Beyond those, however, London said she had "no idea" regarding who owned them. They include Mary Magdalene, The Son of Man, Damascus Road and The Revelation of John Clay.

 

"We're just trying to see what belongs to whom," Ruiz said. "A lot of this stuff is still being negotiated—something amicable, something fair."

 

"I don't want the backlash of, 'I knew you Christians were full of it,'" he continued, referring to how Christians are perceived by others.

 

Ruiz joined ABS in fall 1999 as an assistant in church technology. He soon approached his superiors about comics.

 

He had worked previously in advertising and retail, and even done a stint in the navy, but art has always been his passion.

 

"I've drawn all of my life," he said. "It's a God-given talent."

 

He grew up reading comics and said he "wanted to go back to basics and tell good stories."

 

"I suggested trying to do Scripture-based comics," Ruiz said of his proposal to ABS. "They had done them before in the past, way back in the 80s, but it was general and generic. And I said we need to spice it up" with good production values.

 

Big names in comics like Jerry Novick and Brian Augustyn joined Metron's efforts, and praise followed, much of it from mainstream and secular critics.

 

In fact, Ruiz was trying to place Metron's graphic novels in secular circles, viewing the products as outreach tools—an approach he said ABS supported. But that approach required a solid strategy.

 

"We needed to be really serious about distribution and sales and have a good system in place," he said. Metron never achieved such a system, he said, despite Metron's tactic of quickly putting eight new titles into development to make distributors take them seriously.

 

He characterized Metron's dilemma as "all dressed up and nowhere to go. We had all the right material, but there was no way to get from point A to point B."

 

That's when Ruiz said ABS wanted Metron to cater to Christian distributors and the Christian Booksellers Association market.

 

But the graphic novels' content and approach to storytelling posed a problem.

 

"They were too edgy," Ruiz said, and they didn't appeal to the CBA demographic.

 

"I suggested trying to come up with a way to educate retailers in the CBA market and consumers," Ruiz said. That didn't work, and Metron was caught between religious and secular markets.

 

Ruiz said ABS decided to stay exclusively with the CBA—a decision that disappointed him.

 

"I didn't want to preach to the choir," he said.

 

"Preaching to the choir" would have required a different approach to content, and one that didn't allow for the rougher imagery and language that Ruiz's editorial stance did.

 

"They dealt with hard-core, relevant issues," said Ruiz of the comics he developed.

 

ABS will continue to operate Metron, and London said ABS wants the comics edgy, but within certain bounds.

 

"There has been some push back from the Christian book industry about the images and some of the language in the two graphic novels already produced," she said. "We accept this feedback in a serious way and will be looking to be both 'edgy' in the approach of the graphic novels, and non-offensive in terms of what some might consider improper speech or images."

 

London said ABS wants its comics to meet certain criteria: the stories must be directly from the Bible, based on the Bible, or including principles derived from the Bible.

 

"We'll probably be sticking very closely to that," she said.

 

"I think that Mario has a lot of creativity and ingenuity, and that the American Bible Society appreciated that," she said. "Without that, this approach really would never have gotten off the ground."

 

However, "I do know that it was probably a little bit further than where we want to go," she continued.

 

Ruiz said he looks forward to creating more Scripture-based comics and graphics novels.

 

"I take it up to the Lord now," he said. "It's the greatest job in the world to have—to draw and do and create. You can't put a price to that."

 

"We were on to something," he continued. "There's people out there hurting and needing to hear God's word in whatever way, shape or form, and we were on to something unique."

 

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

 

Metron Press' official Web site is here.

 

Our review of the site is here.

 

Our review of Samson is here.

 

Our review of Testament is here.

 

 

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