Q & A: Sergio Cariello

What happens when you cross comic book artwork with the Bible? Sergio Cariello has worked for both Marvel and DC, giants in the comic world, but arguably his biggest task to date has been drawing the epic story of the Bible to produce The Action Bible. Alex Taylor caught up with Sergio to discover the story behind this striking mix of comic books and Bible story. 

AT: Have you always wanted to illustrate your faith? Is this something you feel God has been drawing you to?  

SC: I am definitely sure that God prepared these chapters in my life before the foundation of the Earth, as his word states it in Ephesians 2:10: he prepared good works for us. He wrote our days in his book even before any of them came to pass (Psalm 139). So I know that God planned it for me, even according to Romans 8:28: that all things work together for those who are called according to his purpose… So I had a desire to get closer to God, to Jesus Christ and his word and a desire to draw, not only based on secular superheroes like Spider-Man and Batman, but also because I saw The Picture Bible when I was a kid. That made me think, ‘How cool would it be if I could do something like this?’

I know that it’s something God intended for me to do. If you search my biography, you will see that every chapter and every year, everything worked as if somebody was coordinating all the circumstances to lead me to land that job doing The Action Bible.  

AT: What impact has The Action Bible had on people’s lives?  

SC: The Action Bible has sold more than a million copies in America alone. We won a few awards here and in Brazil because it was translated into Portuguese, and it’s being translated into 88 different languages. I recently returned from Brazil because we won three awards there. It’s definitely resonating well with people who enjoy the Bible and also enjoy comics. It helps people to see and be attracted to God’s word and God’s lessons of life, especially in the way it was chronologically based: all the stories are told as they happened. It attracts people from all ages. Although it was aimed at kids, I’ve heard that parents, grandparents and even young Christians and non-Christians are attracted to it because they really enjoy God’s word portrayed as comics. It just draws them to it, and they can’t put it down until they finish reading it. Sometimes they buy it for their kids and they wait until their kids go to bed and then start reading it themselves! They become more used to God’s word and learn more than ever before because of the way it’s presented. Also, because of that attraction within the format, the publisher, David C Cook, has been involved in submitting 16 pages of The Action Bible (which has 750 pages) to make The Story of Jesus booklet. It’s been used in their global mission department and they’ve distributed over 50 million copies all over the world.

I hear feedback from India, Pakistan, Russian, Iran, Iraq, Spanish-speaking countries, the Middle East, even China – all over the world. For example, there was one guy responsible for giving us the ISBN number for The Action Bible in Chinese. Even though he was a Buddhist, he loved the Batman that I drew when I worked for DC Comics and recognised me when I drew The Action Bible. His job was to examine the work and decide whether the kids in China would benefit from it and because he loved my drawings on Batman, he gave us our ISBN number! All things point to the success of this book.

Reed Olson from David C Cook’s global mission team has told me that in his 20 years of experience in dealing with Christian publications, The Action Bible has been one of the most ‘anointed books;’ that God decided to touch it and cause an impact. I heard a testimony about a kid from India who got the booklet and, as a Muslim, he hid it under his bed. He felt guilty and told his dad that he’d been hiding this Christian book. The father asked to see it and when he looked at Jesus he said: ‘Where did you get this? I’ve been dreaming about this man!’ And the father gave his life to the Lord. He witnessed to his neighbours and they got saved and they planted a church in this village in India that was predominantly Muslim. But because of The Action Bible there is a new church there! This is just one of the many stories I hear. It never ceases to amaze me, the stories I get by email, in person, or from others at Christian conventions, or even regular comic book conventions where people come and share with me how much this book has impacted their lives.

AT: Were there any difficulties along the way?

SC: The only difficulty was because in this freelance world, we don’t have a nine-to-five set-up for work hours. As a freelancer you have feast and famine sometimes. It’s like living by faith. When I got The Action Bible it took them six months to get ready for me and I couldn't wait for the job to arrive. In order to make a living I had to take on other jobs. So when they were finally ready for me I was already committed to two other projects. I was doing The Lone Ranger for Dynamite Entertainment Publishers and I was also drawing another book for Zondervan.

I was providing 27 pages a month for David C Cook on The Action Bible, 22 pages a month on the Lone Ranger and 50 pages a month for Zondervan. My wife quit her job to help me and I would get her to fill in the shading. I put everyone who visited me to work! It was difficult because I couldn’t stop the clock. It was hard drawing things that involved armies of people fighting each other – having to draw hundreds of people takes longer than drawing two! It was fun.

Because of The Action Bible there is a new church in a village in India!  

AT: Did you have any say about what stories were included?

SC: I had no input but I did request that they used two pictures that meant a lot to me. The one with Jesus carrying the cross was used with some modifications. When they saw that picture, they gave me a try-out page for David and Goliath to see if I was fit for the job. They gave me the script and two weeks to get it done, but the next day I submitted the pages pencilled, lettered, inked and coloured! That’s how much I wanted to do it. I asked them to include those pages and they did. Everything else was already scripted for me. Sometimes I made some editing suggestions, but it was mostly already determined for me.

AT: Do you have any hopes for the further ministry of the project?

SC: There is a second book already out called The Battle Begins. It’s an imagining of what could have happened between the verses of Genesis and creation and the fall of man and Satan. There are other books that we’ve done in The Action Bible line, like the dictionary and the the devotional. There’s also a study Bible. I’m working on something else in The Action Bible line for younger kids.

One thing I’d like to add – many times, while I was working on it, as opposed to working on Captain America, Spider-Man and Batman, I felt that I should stop working and worship God and pray that God would work in my heart as I was drawing The Action Bible because he was working in my life while I was working on it. So the book was completed with a different heart setting – something beyond the paper and ink. It transcends into a fourth dimension of this vertical relationship between creator and creation… I think that helped God’s anointing of it, because I did it with more respect than everything else I’ve ever done before.

The Action Bible is available online and in all good bookstores

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