What exactly is the audience for a graphic novel about the Roman Catholic Church? Comic book fans are not known for their interest in the Vatican, and people concerned about the future of the Church are not usually found amongst the geeks and fan-boys in comic book shops.
Dr. John Zmirak, writer-in-residence at Thomas More College and author of The Grand Inquisitor, answered these questions and more at the book launch event, held at Le Fate restaurant in Rome. Recent cinema has boosted interest in this ever-evolving form of story telling, he explained.
As the title suggests, the idea sprang from Dostoyevsky’s much-discussed chapter in The Brothers Karamazov. It is a reflection on the effects of Enlightenment thinking on the Church, presented through an intellectually engaging dialogue between a cardinal who is the self-proclaimed savior of humanity, and a rigorous, very pious priest who claims that he has been elected the new pope.
Addressing a crowd of Thomas More College students and faculty as well as influential Catholic journalists at a book opening on April 8, Dr. Zmirak explained that the idea for the story arose in 1984. Beginning as a short story, it eventually developed into the more suitable form of a play. Blank verse, however, does not make for an easily produced play. After a series of difficulties in getting the script from paper to the stage, he went back to his publisher—who suggested, half jokingly, that he make it into a graphic novel.
Calling the editor’s bluff, so to speak, Dr. Zmirak contacted Mrs. Carla Miller, who was an artist working in the comic book industry. He and Mrs. Millar collaborated to create the final product, which has been twenty-four years in the making. Mrs. Millar’s lavish, exquisite illustrations—she spent over one year drawing the book—stand in counterpoint to Zmirak’s blank verse dialog, creating a finished book that is “Gothic” in more sense than one.
The Grand Inquisitor may take place in a fictitious future, but the striking images and dynamic concepts within are anything but a fantasy. In fact, this layered tale of blood and deceit comes uncomfortably close to a disturbing truth. Using sources like Eric Voegelin, a profound thinker (and austere critic of the Enlightenment) with whom no Thomas More College student is unfamiliar, Dr. Zmirak dug into the intellectual roots of the crisis in the Church over the last generation. His book posits a grim critique of recent trends against a stark vision of hope.
Article by Zachary Durst, Thomas More College Class of 2010