José Carlos Gutiérrez is a Mexico City-based graphic designer, illustrator, and artist who directs the international comics ministry, Comix35 Next Gen. He also serves as an MAI Board member and trainer. Recently, he helped launch the new MAI América Latina Facebook group, and led our webinar, “¿Cómo transmitir valores cristianos a través de los cómics?” (“How to Share Christian Values through Comics”).
Tell us how you came to faith in Christ.
I was raised Catholic, but never really understood the teachings, and at certain times of my life, I even denied the existence of God. Then, at age 23, I entered an addictions recovery program where I met a man whose life had been restored. He invited me to an event at his church where, at the end of the service, I accepted the invitation to repent and invite Jesus into my heart. I began a personal relationship with Jesus and never stopped attending church, praying, and reading the Bible every day.
Tell us how you became interested in illustration and comics.
My mom was a fashion designer and teacher and also painted using various techniques. Art supplies were everywhere in our home. I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. I began by copying cartoon characters and superheroes from comic strips in the Sunday newspaper and then adding dialogues to my drawings.
When my mom bought me a couple of books to learn how to draw comics and cartoon characters, I began spending hours each day filling the empty practice pages in those books. I carried a notebook and a pencil everywhere I went. By the time I was in high school, the teachers loved my comics, and I knew that I wanted to draw for a living and to study animation. However, since the closest program available was graphic design, I chose that field of study.
When I met Christ in 2002, I wanted to use my drawings to help others know about God’s love. By 2005, I learned about Comix35, and today I lead Comix35 Next Gen.
How do you use art and cartoons to enrich the Church and influence society?
Since 2005, I have been doing short comics (one to seven pages) for Christian magazines. By adding graphic storytelling to a printed or digital publication, the range of readers becomes wider. Short comics are a great way to share Bible-based truths in an entertaining and relatively inexpensive way. I firmly believe that God’s Word changes lives, and I am inspired by Isaiah 55:11: “Just as rain and snow descend from the skies and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth, doing their work of making things grow and blossom, producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry, so will the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed. They’ll do the work I sent them to do, they’ll complete the assignment I gave them” (MSG).
One can also reach people around the world through social media. Last year, I started the Instagram comic, “Encounters for Life,” adapting Bible passages in which people’s lives were changed by having a personal encounter with Jesus.
I have also started launching motion comics—short comics with sound and moving panels that can be shared on any device. One of the projects I enjoy is illustrating live children’s stories that are written and narrated by my pastor each week. These are valuable for church members and for witnessing to others.
Tell us about comics in various parts of the world. Where are they most popular?
Comics have the greatest popularity and influence in Japan, the United States, and France. In Japan, comics are called “Manga,” and visual storytelling and illustrated characters are often used in official communication on the streets and on the subway. Comics production is so massive that there are places called “Manga Kissa” where you pay by the hour to read from thousands of comics titles. The comics market Comiket is a four-day event where big publishing houses and independent comic artists sell their productions.
Also, the popularity of comics has grown here in Mexico. Comics and graphic novels printed in Mexico are sold in bookstores. Local comics production has increased worldwide, and independent authors and small publishing houses are on the rise as well.
What can comics do in conveying important messages that other avenues cannot?
Comics are a form of art, but they are also useful for attracting people who might not be keen to read lots of text. I remember going to the barber shop as a kid and seeing people of all ages pick up the comics on the tables and enjoy them while they waited. Comics fully engage the reader by making both parts of the brain work together, combining texts and images. Comics are a great way to get important messages across to the most people.
How did you first become involved with MAI?
In 2012, former MAI Board member Keila Ochoa Harris invited me to apply for a scholarship to LittWorld in Kenya. I received a scholarship, and, with additional financial help from friends, family, and my church, I was able to have a life-changing experience at the conference. Through the workshops, keynotes, and networking, I felt encouraged to do Christian comics full time. By God’s grace, this is now a reality. Because of MAI, I am now able to train and mentor others in Christian comics and visual storytelling.