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Holy comic books! Saints are the latest superheroes
by Elizabeth Day ("Telegraph," March 26, 2006)

London, England - A chisel-jawed man with flowing chestnut-brown locks, rippling muscles and a penchant for "endless parties" stares from the cover of the latest comic book. This is not Superman or one of the traditional superheroes, but St Francis of Assisi, the pious 13th century monk who became the Roman Catholic patron saint of animals and the environment. This is sainthood: comic book style.

The lives of the saints have been turned into comic books by a publishing company hoping to attract young people to the Catholic Church.

The books, which appear four times a month, seek to capitalise on the recent popularity of big screen adaptations of comic books such as X-Men, Spiderman, Batman and V for Vendetta, starring Natalie Portman and Stephen Fry.

Among those immortalised in the comic book format are Joan of Arc, Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, St Pachomius, a hermit who set up a monastery in the fourth century, and Antony of Padua, the patron saint of shipwrecks, the elderly and expectant mothers.

Arcadius Press, an American publishing company based in Springfield, Missouri, is launching the series in Britain later this year. A payment of around £7 a month will entitle subscribers to 48 comic books a year. Each book bears many of the hallmarks of the traditional superhero tale.

For instance, St Rose of Lima is able to protect herself from attack by two beams of light emerging from the palms of her hands. St Joan of Arc wears superhero tights underneath her thigh-length coat of armour.

Tony Sansone, the 22-year-old founder of Arcadius Press, said: "We wanted to show the saints as real people who had flaws - like St Ignatius Loyola, who we depict living a playboy lifestyle before he was called.

"With St Joan of Arc, you get the issue of an ordinary person being called to do an extraordinary thing."

He added: "We outsource to 80 artists, who see it through from the pencil to the ink stage. We also have a strict review process with focus groups. There's quite a bit of historical research involved." Mr Sansone works in partnership with the local archdiocese, which receives 10 per cent of all sales, and is looking to do the same in Britain.

Previously, the lives of the saints have been recorded only in Catholic encyclopaedia or drily written hagiographic literature, but the comic book initiative has received a cautious welcome from the Catholic community in Britain.

William Oddie, the former editor of the Catholic Herald, said: "It's an easy way of getting children interested so probably worth trying. I'm not sure if St Francis of Assisi was square-jawed, but you can get away with a lot if you are. I'm more round-jawed myself."

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