I first noticed Scott McDaniel on Nightwing, and I have done many interviews with him since then. One of the things that come through each time is his faith and how important it is to him. He is kind enough to share his faith with our readers each Easter. As soon as I saw the solicitations for Black Box Comics’ The Gospel of Jesus Christ – A Visual Presentation, I knew I needed to talk to Scott again. Before I sent the email, Scott contacted me to talk about his project. This is something deeply personal for Scott and I hope you enjoy his story as much as I do.
First Comics News: Did you grow up in a Christian household?
Scott McDaniel: Not particularly! My family was friendly to Christianity, but not committed to regular worship, prayer, Bible study, and seeking a growing relationship with the Lord. We were loosely connected to a Roman Catholic church, and we would attend services maybe on Resurrection Sunday or a Christmas service. That was about the extent of it. My father had very serious health issues that forced his early retirement and then his early death, and I think my parent’s main concern was literal day-to-day survival. I remember most of all the constant encouragements to get a good education and to be a good person. It is sound, practical advice to be sure, and it certainly resonates with the God-breathed encouragements of Proverbs and 1 Timothy 3!
As a young father in my mid-twenties, God sought me out through my wife, Amy, and our toddler son, Alexander. We were regularly attending a Baptist Church – for their benefit, not mine (as I believed that Christianity was a religion mainly for old women who needed the comfort of a Sky-Grandfather)! But God got a hold of me and I soon realized the reality of my situation: I was a lost sinner under the condemnation of the Law of God, soon to suffer His full righteous wrath against sin. I ran to the cross of Christ and He graciously forgave me and made a new creation. I was set on an entirely new path, hungry to know everything I could about Him. Since then, my household has been a Christian one! We’re not perfect (as Jesus alone is perfect), but we’re on “the Way” together, now worshiping and growing with a Christian & Missionary Alliance Church.
1st: You started out as a man of science, an electrical engineer. What made you give up works in your chosen field and get into comics?
Scott: I have been drawing comic book art for as long as I can remember! My mother has a lot of natural artistic talent, and she encouraged my love of comic books and art as a kid. However, she wisely counseled that I go to college and “get a real job” knowing that creative types are called “starving artists” for good reasons! So I did just that. I attended Bucknell University, earned a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering degree and began my EE career with a company that made gyroscopic inertial navigation units for spacecraft, all the while reading comics and drawing superheroes in my spare time!
As fascinating as the EE work was, I knew that I could not “create” in that field. My work was in project management, which was fascinating and challenging and required robust problem-solving, but that’s not quite the same as “creating.” Meanwhile, my best friend from college, Glenn Herdling, used his double major in English and Psychology to land an editorial position at Marvel Comics. Glenn was gracious enough to work with me over the years after graduation to hone my drawing skills to a professional level. Glenn even got me my first, small professional assignments as a “penciller” at Marvel, which I would complete in the evenings or over weekends! In time, those Marvel assignments grew larger and more frequent, and eventually, I was offered a 6-month trial assignment as penciller on the monthly comic book titled “Daredevil.” I arrived at a crossroad! Faced with two very different, full-time paths, I had to make a choice. After much discussion with my wife, we decided that I should follow my passion and pursue being a full-time creator as a comic book artist!
1st: Did anyone let you know life as a freelancer isn’t quite as stable a career?
Scott: Ha! Great question! I’m sure many people did sound that cautionary note, but like a good headstrong and zealous young man in his twenties, I considered myself to be unstoppable and invincible, and those notes didn’t settle in as deeply they probably should have!
Yes, choosing the path of a freelance artist (i.e., self-employed) brings with it a lot of responsibilities and challenges that weren’t immediately obvious. There is far more to managing your “business” than merely completing the creative work! Supply and Demand forces among competitors and products constantly change, creating an equal imperative to manage and grow new skills and adapt to the changing needs of the market.
“Stability” in the ever-changing entertainment marketplace is a quaint notion that is quickly fading in my memory – which is why it is of great benefit to be standing on the solid Rock, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation – Jesus.
1st: How did becoming a father shape your faith?
Scott: Being a father is an incredible gift that has taught me a great deal about our Heavenly Father: His unending love for His children, His desire to see them grow healthy and strong and wise, and His willingness to sacrifice all for His children. As I understand those feelings toward my own son as a human father, they are but a shadow of what my Heavenly Father feels toward His children, including me – those who believe in His Son, Jesus, and are born again of God.
It’s an incredible thing to have the Sovereign King of the universe as a loving, heavenly Father. And in the most healthy of ways, every loving son wants to please his good, good Father, and that means to joyfully and freely walk in the ways that please Him.
1st: How has your faith helped you as a comic artist?
Scott: Interesting question. The informing flows both ways!
God’s Word encourages me to do everything as if I am doing it for the Lord himself, so my faith has reinforced an inner commitment to excellence in whatever I attempt to do. That healthy drive for excellence has had a very positive influence on my artistry and creativity.
Conversely, I’ve also come to have a deeper admiration for Him as Creator by my work as a comics “creator.” A comic book “creator” must primarily be a strong visual storyteller, and then have great skill with the technical requirements of drawing, like anatomy, light/shadow, perspective, color theory, etc., and also skill with the associated modern computer applications. To complete any job well, the comic book artist must manage a wide variety of independent but interrelated skills. When I see the inexhaustible detail in the work of God’s hands, I see deep wisdom and skill. He is an incredible Creator, and that strengthens my faith.
1st: Has your faith presented any challenges with publishers or other creators?
Scott: Yes, and it is important to deal with these situations when they arise in a thoughtful, respectful manner. In all cases, though, I have to do what I believe is right before God without a worry to any possible long-term consequences to my career. I believe that God is Sovereign, and that means He is directing all affairs as He chooses. My responsibility to Him is to walk in a way that pleases Him and let Him set my path.
My faith (my knowledge of God and His ways and His desires for His children) acts as a standard against which I compare the content and quality of any potential work. I can’t and won’t draw “anything” that comes my way. I’ve politely turned down lucrative work because I believed the content was unfit for me as a Christian man to produce – work that promoted grotesque violence and/or rampant immorality. In some cases, I was able to propose alternate content that my creative teammates freely accepted. Finding this balance can be difficult. The world is a dark place, and reality can be cruel. To represent it accurately is one thing, but to glamorize it or capitalize on it is another. I find it best to proceed with a lot of prayer and thought and humility, and let the Lord lead me through a quiet sense of yes or no.
For work that I believe is suitable for me to do, then I try, as far as I am able, to kindly work to make it the best that it can be.
1st: By nature your a private person, does a project like this expose more of yourself to the public than you are comfortable showing?
Scott: Yes! I am indeed a private person, avoiding the public spotlight to the maximum extent possible! However, Jesus calls us to “let your light shine before others” and to be “salt of the earth” in order to glorify God. My discomfort arises from not wanting my acknowledged imperfections to cloud anyone’s view of the one true and perfect God. And that’s the whole point of this gospel presentation – it’s not to have people look at the imperfect ME, but instead to guide people’s attention beyond me to see the perfect God and be amazed by Him.
1st: What made you decide now was the right time to share your faith with the world?
Scott: GOD. This is completely His timing. This project has been on my heart for over a decade, but in my mind, it was all just fleeting thoughts and flashes of art. I literally could not get it out of my mind and onto paper, despite how hard I tried. Realize that my entire career has equipped me with a very strong ability to visualize and translate mental pictures onto paper, and it is a skill I use professionally nearly every single day. It was absolutely maddening that I couldn’t move forward on this project – the one I most wanted to do!
Suddenly, this Spring, clarity overwhelmed my thoughts and this book literally poured out of me. The vast majority of the creative work was done over a very intense 3.5 week period. The next several months was used to invite trusted mature Christians among my friends and family, including the elders and their spouses at my church, to review the book and provide feedback in order to make this project strong in every way – to honor God, to be doctrinally sound, to be artistically dynamic and thought-provoking, and to show an honest love for those who don’t yet know Jesus as Savior. By God’s grace, I think we succeeded in all those areas, and it was all done in His time and under His leadership and with much thought and prayer.
By His grace, He’ll use it for His purposes.
1st: With the limited page count of a comic, how did you chose what to include and what not to include?
Scott: This was perhaps the most challenging set of decisions that needed to be made, and I trust that the Lord guided me here as part of the out-pouring I experienced.
The first concern: to whom am I writing this book. I felt a burden for my brothers and sisters in Christ who know the truth of the gospel message but feel inadequate to articulate it well to others. I felt a burden for new Christians who don’t fully understand what Jesus makes available to those who trust in Him – far more than a mere “get out of he– free card” but instead the fullness of life, love, joy, and freedom from the bondage of sin itself. I felt a burden for people involved with churches that are Christ-less and gospel-less. Though all these different burdens initially seemed to represent competing interests, the Lord showed clearly that the full gospel message satisfies them all.
The next concern: the range of the content. While the core of the gospel message is centered on Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, more content is needed to prepare the reader to rightly understand those things. The Lord impressed pretty heavily on me that this gospel book must start, and end, on HIM. And it does. He graciously guided the content to flow naturally from who He is, to who we are, to what happened to us, and to how He determined to rescue us. The book closes with a view of discipleship, how to walk in the newness of life offered by salvation in Jesus, and how the fullness of God is present in every aspect of our salvation.
What had always been clear to me was the book’s graphic design. I had always intended the art and God’s Word to dominate the pages. That is, this book was never intended to look like a traditional comic book, with pages filled with individual panels filled with characters interacting and talking through a story). Instead, generally, one dynamic illustration would dominate each page. Accompanying the art would be two key Scripture texts that spoke directly to the topic addressed on the page. Lastly, a small amount of narrative text written by me would provide the connective tissue throughout the presentation.
The content runs 40 pages total (including front and back covers).
1st: The Gospel of Jesus Christ – A Visual Presentation is going to be available from Diamond, is it also going to be sold in Christian Bookstores?
Scott: The Gospel is indeed available in comic shops everywhere through Diamond Comics Distributors (Diamond Product Code #SEP18 1582, published by BlackBox Comics, in-stores Nov 14, 2018).
We do also plan to make this gospel presentation available through standard book distribution channels, too. Those plans are still being made!
1st: Traditionally comics are sold for one month and then they are gone and the next comic comes out. This project seems like you could sell it forever. Are you planning multiple printings or is this it, order it now before it’s gone?
Scott: Yes, this book is designed to be a single-issue presentation of the timeless gospel of Jesus Christ. We have tentative plans to release it again in the future, ahead of important Christian holidays like Easter and Christmas. But, as this initial printing is the only one formally scheduled to date, I encourage everyone to reach out to their local comic shop now during September and ask them to order it for you!
We will review everything once this initial book release has run its course, and then make the appropriate decisions for next year.
1st: If you don’t have a comic shop in your area, how can you get this comic?
Scott: We are considering several ideas for digital release, but at present, we are limiting our attention to print format. If you do not have access to a comic shop, send an email to “firstname.lastname@example.org” with your request and we’ll do our best to connect you with the book!