April 23, 2014

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The Road to Bethlehem

“Dad, why do you want to do the birth of Jesus instead of a super-hero book?”

My older son’s query wasn’t the first time I’d been asked that question. Perhaps some of you are also wondering why, in a genre dominated by cowls and capes, would anyone do a comic book on the Christmas story?

Billy’s original graphite illustration of the Virgin & Child

I have been very blessed in life to continually support my family by doing what I love for a living: writing, illustrating, and publishing comic books. It’s been a very colorful and rewarding career, but there has been one project that’s always eluded me, that dream project for which every artist longs. Now, thanks to some wonderful friends and family, that dream has come true for me.

The story of Christmas holds such importance to so many people on so many levels that taking it on was definitely the most intimidating professional decision of my life. After all, how arrogant can someone be to believe that he’s the one to tell this story? I guess it all comes down to faith, really. I am a “Christian” who, finally, after years of hearing it, answered the call to share the most beautiful story ever told. I hope I have succeeded and that my love for A Child Is Born shows on every page.

And what a story it is! One that is filled with heartbreak, joy, danger, fear, awe, love, and hope all compacted into just a few short New Testament verses! What a challenge it is to follow the Gospels of Matthew and Luke faithfully, while trying to fill in many of the blanks in-between. God’s words were the star that guided our ship through this amazing journey, but he had two earthly pilots to read them: my partners — my brothers — Evan Archilla and Dr. Jason Peet. It was Evan and Jason and their families who took the greatest leaps of faith (perhaps spiritually, definitely financially) in trusting me with this cherished story. Guys, you are Apostle Arts and I am forever indebted to your generosity and friendship.

Our initial fellowship was soon joined by editor J.C. Vaughn — whose faith is as strong as his encouragement — as well as an amazing cast of artisans: the extraordinary Paul Mounts, who made every panel a painting, Bill Tortolini, the master of letters, cover painter Mark Sparacio, and designers Barry Orkin and Mike Renzine. Words can never express my most sincere gratitude for all that you’ve done; please know in my heart that I will never, ever forget your feats.

ACIB photo sessions: Radiant "Mary"

I must also thank all my friends who helped by posing for me bearing hockey sticks and stuffed dinosaurs (in place of staffs and lambs) in my attempts to recreate that far off world still impacting history today.

Additionally, a special “thank you” is due to the wonderful Mr. Rick Larson for opening my eyes to the constellations through his personal pursuit of the Star of Bethlehem. You have inspired us all to never look at Jupiter the same way again.

Again, thank you all for giving me a gift that has become the highlight of my career — and one unforgettable and joyous adventure. From now on, we are all brothers in arts!

When I first started researching the book, I met with the Rev. Fr. John from St. John’s Greek Orthodox Church. He was very generous with his time, answering my questions and lending me many books and DVDs from various Nativity scholars. One thing he said that really struck me after our first meeting was his admonition not to “lose your faith over this.” What Fr. John meant was the more research I did trying to tie all the ends together, the more questions I might raise. Once I started this journey, though, I was never alone. It’s been quite epic, really, regarding the many challenges and failures I’ve come up against. But for every fall there was always someone to raise me up, to befriend me, to encourage me as they too came along on the road to Bethlehem. Because of A Child Is Born, I’ve seen, felt, and learned so much…and my faith has never been stronger.

ACIB photo sessions: Scheming "Herod"

In closing, I cannot forget my beautiful wife, Deborah, and her great victory over breast cancer this past year. It was your fight, Honey, which steered me down “the right path” career-wise. You made me realize how wonderful life, love, and family truly are; that, at this point in our lives, no work is more worthwhile to our family than illustrating this story of Mary and Joseph.

So how did I answer my son’s innocent question on why A Child Is Born? It was actually quite simple, “Jesus is a super-hero, William — the greatest superhero ever to walk the earth!”

Thanks be to God!

Billy Tucci

 

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