In ‘The Holy Ghost,’ John Hendrix draws on Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes and life’s big questions
In Christianity’s greatest hits, the Father and the Son get the celebrity. One sacrifices his only offspring for the good of the world; the other takes on all the sins of humanity and suffers a terrible death — only to rise again in glory. You can see why their stories have taken center stage for thousands of years.
And then there’s the Holy Ghost. This fleshless being is depicted as the breath of God, the quiet voice that helps us see God. That may seem a whole lot less exciting.
St. Louis artist John Hendrix makes a great case that the Holy Ghost is still worth your time. In his winsome new graphic novel, “The Holy Ghost,” he introduces us to a spirit who is charming, approachable and insightful. In some ways, he does for this underrated part of the Godhead what Charles M. Schulz did for beagles.
And that’s no accident. Hendrix said he consciously modeled the book’s one-page strips on both Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes.
“I'm in such debt to them,” he explained on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air. “When Calvin and Hobbes would be in the wagon and would go down the hill together and just talk about these abstract concepts in the context of comics — man, that stuff, even as a 12-year-old, translated big ideas to my heart. And so yeah, in many ways, I'm working in their shadow, a very small version of what they really did in their work.”
Hendrix said he got the idea for a comic book version of the Holy Spirit while doodling in church one day, but it took nearly a decade to realize he had a book.
“This was really a spiritual journal,” he said. “I would occasionally post [the drawings] on Tumblr to get some laughs from people, or they would occasionally make the rounds. Someone would send it to friends, and I enjoyed people seeing them. But the idea that it was a collection that would be out in the world, it is almost a little horrifying. It's like someone reading your journal in a way.”
In the universe of the book, the Holy Ghost interacts with both a pious badger and a skeptical squirrel. The squirrel, he admitted, is a stand-in for the author — dead certain in his convictions one moment and completely waffling the next.
“Any person who is of faith understands that doubt goes hand in hand with real faith, and you just can't be afraid of that,” Hendrix said.
The chair of the MFA in Illustration & Visual Culture program at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University, Hendrix is also the author of numerous children’s books, including “John Brown: His Fight for Freedom,” “Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus” and “The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler.” He acknowledged that his Christian faith is the through-line for his many varied projects.
“This is what I tell my students all the time: you just can't do an end around on the stuff that you're passionate about. If you try to find what the market wants, if you try to make books you think other people are going to like, it's just never going to work out.
“And so at the end of the day, this was the stuff that I continue to think about, wanted to make images about. And they have done well enough that I get to keep making them.”
What: John Hendrix with Abram C. VanEngen, hosted by Left Bank Books
When: 7:15 p.m. May 10
Where: High Low, 3301 Washington Ave., St. Louis, MO 63103 and on Facebook Live
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.