OM’s EurAsia Support Team, or OM EAST, focuses on bringing hope to forgotten peoples—including minority groups, the poor, orphaned, and persecuted. Literature has proven to be one of the most effective keys to unlocking hopeless futures. And in the last decade, the team has begun to publish and distribute comic books with impressive results.
Their first experiment, illustrating the real-life story of orphaned “Dorie,” brought countless letters from individuals who, like the real-life Dorie, had given up hope that anyone cared about them. Demand for this comic has led to translation into 14 languages. The second project, “Light in the Darkness,” is based on Patricia St John's book, Star of Light. Set in North Africa, this story was chosen for its particular appeal to children in similar, non-Christian cultures.
Of course, using a comic book format requires the skills of a specialty illustrator. OM EAST never dreamed that God had been preparing one young woman for that role from her childhood.
Recalls artist Judi, “I was nine years old when I told God I wanted to be an illustrator. After high school I started an apprenticeship as a graphic designer, but I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to do something more valuable with my life. My whole perspective slowly shifted. I broke off a relationship with a non-believer, and when my unbelieving brother was killed in a car accident shortly after that, I realised the urgency of getting back on track with my vision.
“I never wanted to be a missionary, but I heard about OM Ships and saw on the internet that they had a graphics department. For the first time I thought about using my training for missions. At the interview the OM office suggested that I go to Austria but I wanted to sail to different countries! Since I had to do a short-term trip anyway before joining full time I agreed to help the EAST team for three weeks.
“When I realised they were working with unreached people I was a lot more interested. In fact, I enjoyed the team so much I stayed for a year! Unfortunately by then I had developed a wrist problem and support problems (my church has only 13 people!). I thought of Bible school or art school, and then someone suggested going to a comic school. It was a new idea for me, but I had worked a little on the Dorie comic book and I realized I could go back to the team and use my training. An unexpected legacy provided exactly the amount of money I needed to study for a year at a top school for comic and graphic art, in New Jersey.”
Judi did her first drawings for “Light in the Darkness” while she was still at the school. “Altogether it took me three years to finish it. I wanted to get it right culturally. --If the drawings aren’t realistic, people can’t identify with the story.”
The illustrator admits it’s very unusual to be allowed to handle a whole project on one’s own, but such an opportunity is “an artist’s dream.” So was working on a story that had impacted her own life as a child. Her first step was to re-write the book into comic form, using dialog. She then started making sketches of characters and rooms, deciding where the most important elements should go on each page. To familiarize herself with the setting she studied illustrated books and internet resources, finally going to visit North Africa in person for two weeks.
In Morocco, Judi chose the colours that would best convey atmosphere, and took hundreds of pictures of people, architecture and street scenes. Eventually she created an actual-size mock-up of the story in pencil before inking the figures, adding computer colouring in Photoshop and a separate, hand-coloured background. Using InDesign software the artist built the story and inserted balloons for dialog, allowing for variations in the script size of different languages.
When the first Crimean Tatar version of “Light in the Darkness” was finally published last June, it was a day to celebrate. The comic is now being eagerly read by scores of individuals in the Crimean Peninsula who had little previous knowledge of Jesus. Funds allowing, OM East hopes to produce the comic book in another twelve minority languages. Local churches help to carry out distribution and often reap the benefits by seeing their numbers grow.
“People ask, ‘Why do you do those weird languages? Why not just do it in Russian?’” Judi smiles. “But these are the heart languages of these people, and a key part of the cultures they are trying to protect. God has spoken powerfully to me of how He loves forgotten peoples, and how He wants me to give the best I can give. That’s why quality is part of our vision statement at OM EAST. We want to increase the quality of our books so they compete with the best!”
The business world may measure success by profits and quantities of books sold, but to OM EAST it’s the quality of lives that’s most important. From the perspective of eternity, they clearly come out the winners.
Credit: Debbie Meroff · © 2010 Debbie Meroff