When Mario Ruiz departed Metron Press earlier this year, he wasn’t sure of the road ahead.

The 37-year-old had been editor-in-chief of Metron, the American Bible Society‘s comics division. When he left over differences about Metron’s direction, he still had stories he wanted to tell.

He took some time to gather his thoughts, but then it was back to the drawing board—literally—for a new comics company of his own: Valor Comics. Its tagline: “Where great stories are told.”

“I had created in my head and heart a set of stories that just had to get told,” Ruiz said in a press release announcing Valor’s launch. “I created Valor Comics as a place where I could let these stories out.”

Valor Comics will unfold in 2005 with a trilogy of graphic novels: Magdalene, Jesus Christ: Son of Man and The Revelation of John Devine.

Ruiz conceptualized the upcoming trilogy while at Metron. The terms of his departure included his right to take those stories with him.

The Son of Man trilogy depicts a modern world where the Roman Empire never fell and Jesus was yet to be born.

Magdalene uses the biblical story of Mary Magdalene as the basis for its narrative about a young woman in trouble. In Son of Man, a charismatic preacher stirs the masses with miracles. And in The Revelation of John Devine, an officer deals with psychological and spiritual demons in his quest to uncover the truth about the Son of Man.

“I’m looking toward probably next fall,” Ruiz said of the trilogy’s rollout. He had hoped to have Mary out in the spring, but it got pushed back when another opportunity went his way: a graphic history of the State of Israel.

Ruiz recruited Jerry A. Novick to help him produce the trilogy. Novick, a comics veteran, partnered with Ruiz on the Metron Press title Samson: Judge of Israel. Ruiz will illustrate the trilogy in full-color art, and Novick will write it.

Novick cited two keys for telling stories well in graphic novel form: completion and pacing.

“Standard monthly comics have the unique opportunity to develop major and minor characters, main plots and sub-plots over time,” said Novick, “but a graphic novel is not the same sort of animal. Yes, it is sequential storytelling, but the goal is to introduce, develop and pay-off everything in one finite package.”

Success also depends on pacing.

“The art—the way each page is laid out—is crucial to establishing that rhythm,” he said. “But it’s equally important that the writer not bog the story down with too much narrative, or rush things with too little. There has to be a blend between the narration, exposition, dialogue and art that creates a cadence so that the complete story unfolds naturally.”

Novick said he concentrates on those challenges in portraying the Bible in a new light.

“I actually never worry about what most people assume is the biggest pitfall: backlash—either from religious people or from God,” Novick said. “I know in my spirit that when I write one of these books, my intention is not to ‘play with’ the Bible, to use it to my own ends or twist its content, but instead to make it accessible to people who might otherwise never explore the Word.”

Ruiz said something similar.

“The biggest thing I have to watch out for is that I don’t dilute what the real message is about and that I don’t put my two cents or personal belief into these stories,” he said. “I put it in the context of today and let people see how relevant it is today. That’s my job. That’s my challenge.”

Ruiz said he doesn’t change anything about the Bible as much as he updates it, taking a biblical story about a leper, for example, and making the disease AIDS instead of leprosy.

That’s how you reach unbelievers, said Ruiz and Novick.

“If God is displeased,” said Novick, “He’ll take it up with me directly; there’s no need for any person to condemn me. If people are displeased, they can shake their head in disapproval like the townspeople in the movie ‘Footloose’ while Mario and I strive to help believers and unbelievers alike connect themselves to God in a way the disapprovers never could.”

Novick said he and Ruiz complement each other well, each prodding the other to dig deeper into stories. He also said when they combine talents, the result is usually better than anything either would have come up with individually.

Valor Comics is giving Novick and Ruiz the opportunity to work together again and, as Novick said, “take the message God gave us in the Bible and deliver it to people in a way that will open their eyes.”

And Novick said he believes the trilogy will generate a lot of interest on account of Ruiz’s strong vision for Valor Comics.

“Any time you begin a new venture, there’s a certain amount of uncertainty,” Novick said. “With Valor, however, one thing that everyone can be sure of is that the people involved in the projects are on a mission—something that will have a pay-off way beyond the search for a paycheck.”

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

The Valor Comics Web site is at www.valorcomics.com.

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