March 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Keeping the Faith: An Interview with “Religion” Author Margreet de Heer

Religion is a rich, significant, and occasionally sensitive topic. Amsterdam native Margreet de Heer isReligion well aware of what a fraught subject it is. The daughter of two ministers who has studied theology herself, she turned to comics as her vocation. In Religion: A Discovery in Comics (NMB, 2015), de Heer offers a balanced and nuanced exploration of different belief systems in comics form, with humor and insight.

How did you go from studying theology to creating comics?

I had always considered studying theology as a fallback position, since half of my family has studied it. I knew it offered a broad variety of subjects that interested me: languages, history, philosophy. I also felt I needed more “input” before I could produce significant creative work, and theology certainly provided this. I never seriously considered becoming a minister like my parents, I just wanted this study to broaden my knowledge.

I drew my first comic when I was 14 and enjoyed it very much, so I took the chance during my studies and drew a comic for our faculty magazine: “The Adventures of Jesus.” It was part jokey, part exegetical, using original New Testament texts. It was well received (my faculty was of a particular liberal type).

During the last years of my study, when I was in my mid-20s, I had a part-time job in a church community in Amsterdam. In the same street as this church, there was a comics studio, run by a girl my age, who was actually making a living drawing comics. I joined the studio, which meant the opportunity to work there one day a week, meet other comic artists, and go to comic conventions with them. This was a real eye-opener: comics just might be a career for me!

After graduating in theology, I decided I wanted to at least try to become a comic artist. So I got a part-time job in a comics store and started drawing, drawing, drawing; building up a body of work, and skill, and connections—and after five years, I could quit my job and call myself a full-time comic artist!

Are there other modes of interpreting the world that you plan to “discover in comics”? Do you have other comics projects in the works?

eggshellsYes, I’m envisioning the “Discovery in Comics” series as a seven-parter: there’s Philosophy, Science, and Religion out in the United States now, and the fourth is World Domination, [which] just came out in the Netherlands. The other subjects I want to draw are love, death, and self. So I’ve got my work cut out for me.

You’ve inserted an often negative audience into your work. Have you received any angry responses?

Surprisingly, no. I guess the fact that I show that I am aware of criticism and sensibilities softens readers who might have a different view on things.

Are you familiar with American comics? If so, what do you see as important points of comparison between American comics and those produced in Europe?

I’m not really familiar with American superhero comics, but I do read a lot of American graphic novels. I guess the biggest difference between American and European comics is this superhero genre, which seems to be typically American. I can sort of objectively see the appeal, but it doesn’t do much for me personally.

When I grew up I read a lot of Donald Duck comics, especially the Carl Barks stories—they’re brilliant! Donald Duck is big in Holland, and there’s a Donald Duck Weekly [that’s been] coming out here since 1952.

At the moment, I think the American and European comics markets are more similar than different, with a growing appreciation of the graphic novel. [We are] seeing that comics are so much more than just fun stories for kids and can easily carry grand themes or even be used as educational tools, which is where my comics come in.

Is there anything more you’d like to tell us about yourself and your work?

I’m very proud that my work is presented as educational graphic novels—they actually grew out of making autobiographical comics. I love this genre, especially by women. There’s something very powerful about the personal narrative, no matter what the subject matter is.

My comics were born from a wish to draw about myself discovering things. So technically they’re autobiographical educational comics. I always start from a point where I think: How would I explain this thing to myself? How would I like to see it in pictures?

So I’m really drawing my comics to please myself. The fact that they are internationally successful is hugely satisfying for me: it seems a lot of people want to learn in the same way that I do. When I first started doing them, I did not expect this at all. I mean, who wants to “learn” something from reading a comic? Lucky for me, many people do. I hope to be drawing comics like this for quite a while to come.

Eric Norton is the Head of Customer Services, McMillan Memorial Library, Wisconsin Rapids, where he has also served as a department head for adult and youth services. He is a longtime reviewer for SLJ and sister publication Library Journal.

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  1. Im wondering what Christian artist think of Adult art. Im speaking of comics, drawings and paintings. Not mass printed porn thats a different topic. The funny style of comics usually rated R. From a religious standpoint does a Christian support an artist right to make someone laugh. Its been my experience that sexual material, jokes and humor of that nature are frowned upon by the church. I believe it comes from the misguided idea that every religion believes in itself. Having the ultimate power to decide what is art and what isnt.
    That is how people of religion live there whole lives. Deciding what others must believe in. Language, movies, dress, art, etc, etc. Therin lies a problem or the belief of my God can beat your God up. Its easy to critize an artists work when a moral high ground floods the minds of mass population. I support all artist and the belief in God creates all art no matter what the subject matter.