Teacher draws on art skills to share the faith
GARDEN CITY—Most people look at comic books as a fun way to escape reality.
Andrew Thomas sees them as a way to save souls.
Thomas teaches art and religion at St. Michael School in Garden City and is also studying for the permanent diaconate. He recently started his own Catholic comic book company, Bonaventure Comics (www.bonaventurecomics.com).
He has loved comics since childhood, especially the superheroes of Marvel. In recent years, however, Thomas became dismayed at what he saw as an increase in violence and a decline in the moral message of mainstream comics.
Then, he asked himself why not try to combine his love for the comic medium with his deep Catholic faith?
Bonaventure was born.
Thomas has created two full length comics that can be read on the website or purchased for e-readers. He has also published a few hard copies of each one.
One, “Borderline,” focuses on fantasy stories with a moral message told by a fictitious Argentinian nun, Sister Francesca Huerta. The other, “The Life of St. John Berchmans,” tells the story of the Belgian Jesuit scholar who died in his early 20s and is now a patron saint of students and altar servers.
Thomas’ creative passion for art started as a child raised in a devout Catholic household in Baton Rouge, La.
“Art is something I’ve always done,” he said. “I can remember drawing in front of the TV or trying to learn how to draw some of my favorite comic strip characters as a kid. I loved it but I never thought it was something I would go into as a career.”
God had other plans. Thomas said he tried different majors in college, including chemistry and engineering, but neither one worked. His parents suggested he go back to art, his first love, and he enrolled at the prestigious Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Fla., where he majored in illustration.
After graduation, he worked in the design studio at Franklin Mint in Media, Pa., and then at Lamar Graphics and Advertising in Baton Rouge.
He loved the creativity of his jobs, but after four years of an art career, Thomas felt drawn to a different vocation.
“I started to feel a call to enter the seminary,” he said. “I had been attending daily Mass for quite a while and I started to have a stronger and stronger sense that I should discern whether or not to become a priest.”
In 2002, he entered Notre Dame Theological Seminary in New Orleans to begin studies to become a priest for the Diocese of Baton Rouge. While he loved his classes and the idea of a vocation, Thomas admits that it was difficult to give up his full-time work as an artist.
“No matter what I’m doing, I always still see myself as an artist,” he said. “If I don’t get to work on art for at least three hours a day, I feel unstable.”
He loved his three years at the seminary, but in 2005, the storm that uprooted thousands in New Orleans also uprooted his plans for his life.
“Hurricane Katrina hit and caused quite a bit of damage to the seminary, so I was basically out of a home for about a month and a half,” he said.
During that time, Thomas lived with his parents and volunteered at area shelters helping hurricane victims. That short break led him to realize he needed a longer time away from the seminary to discern if the priesthood was really the right choice for him.
He moved to Philadelphia to work with a sculptor there and was considering whether or not to return to the seminary. Instead, he discovered he was called to marriage with a woman he had met while studying Spanish in Mexico several years before. They were married in 2006 and now have four children: three daughters and a son.
Thomas and his wife Patricia lived in Mexico for a while before he accepted the teaching job at St. Michael School in 2010. She also works as a Spanish teacher at the school.
Shortly after moving to Garden City, Thomas decided to start Bonaventure Comics as a way to bring the new evangelization to a wider audience.
“I still love superheroes and things like that, but it seemed to me most comics today were too immoral for kids,” he said. “What I try to do with my work is to have a strong moral message. I have characters who worship God, who get their strength from the Lord. I really think comics are a great way to evangelize both kids and adults.”
He also decided to study for the permanent diaconate and is currently part of the class of men who will graduate in 2017.
“I never completely gave up my desire to serve the Lord, to learn more theology and philosophy and to minister in a more prominent role in the Church,” Thomas said.
His roles as husband, father, teacher and student leave precious little time to promote Bonaventure Comics, but he hopes to spread the word to more people in 2015, perhaps having copies of his work sold in local comic book stores or at conventions.
“I love everything I do, whether it’s art or teaching or simply living the life God has blessed me with,” he said.