Seven years ago, the legendary comic book artist Michael Allred had a hit series and a “pile of money.” X-Statix, a quirky story about a team of mutants who happened to be massive celebrities, was selling fast on the strength of Allred’s clear, clean, Roy Lichtenstein-esque penciling. With backing from Marvel Comics, it was doing even better than his iconic ’90s series Madman.
So Allred started adapting the Book of Mormon into a multi-part graphic novel. In 2004 and 2005 he self-published The Golden Plates, an action/gospel-packed story starring Nephi, Omni, Jacob, and a cast of hundreds. The Golden Plates is gorgeously drawn, surprisingly dramatic—and unfinished. “It took me way too long to make each volume,” says Allred, “and ultimately I wasn’t fast enough to make it profitable.” The three complete volumes are out of print.
He’s talked to Jeopardy champion (and fellow Mormon) Ken Jennings about funding more books. (“I’m open to future possibilities,” Jennings confirms.) The problem: Making The Golden Plates was full-time work for Allred and his wife Laura, who colored the books.
After a few days of writing about Mitt Romney’s religion, I thought it was time to follow up on one of the great unfinished epics in modern comics. Allred answered questions over e-mail; this is a lightly edited transcript.
Slate: In some interviews, you’ve gone a little light on your personal faith, so I’ll ask that first dumb question: Are you still a Mormon?
Allred: Yup. Born that way. I’m very knowledgeable [about the faith], but not lockstep. Too many independent ideas, I’m told.
Slate: And you were raised in the church? Did you ever drift?
Allred: I was raised very faithfully and consistently until my parents split, when I was 11. I stayed with my psychologist father in Oregon while my older and younger brothers went with my mom to Utah. Dad blessed me with an open mind.
Slate: You did a lot of historical and geographical research before beginning The Golden Plates. Were you at all worried about disproving what you believed to be true?
Allred: No. My beliefs are mostly hopes. Anyone can argue the truth of anything and be unswayable, given the strength of their convictions or degree of stubbornness. Beyond that, the Book of Mormon is fascinating on any level, fact or fiction. If true, we know that God exists, there is life after death, and life has an eternal meaning. If fiction, it’s a phenomenal story.
Slate: What response did you get when these started coming out?
Allred: The most gratifying [responses] were from the curious—folks who had heard of the Book of Mormon and were grateful to get an easy-access introduction to its contents.
Slate: What about the response from the church?
Allred: Mostly positive, especially from parents or people who had friends that liked comic books and [said the books] helped explain their faith, and how they were Christians—whose main distinction from ‘mainstream Christians’ was that Mormons had a record of the resurrected Christ. That will always be the most exciting aspect of it to me. The main standout was a negative reaction I heard from someone whose bishop refused to even touch it. Apparently they believed the hype that comic books are evil. Ignorance exists everywhere.
Slate: I’m contacting you because of Mitt Romney’s rise, but that’s not the only way Mormonism is penetrating the culture right now. Have you seen the Trey Parker/Matt Stone musical The Book of Mormon?
Allred: I was hoping to see The Book of Mormon with my fellow comic book pal, Darwyn Cooke, this month, but deadlines and a European signing tour killed those plans. I’m excited to see it. I’m not easily offended and I’m one of the first people who will admit that the faith (in fact, all faith) can be perceived as very strange and easy to poke at.
Slate: How are Mormons treated in pop culture?
Allred: I think it’s mostly very fair. I was disappointed in Proposition 8 in California. I’m disappointed when perceptions get skewed. But when it comes down to it, we should be judged by our own individual behavior and views. Not all Mormons are alike. I’m certainly proof of that. My liberal-leaning views aren’t appreciated by some members of the Church, but I’ve been happily surprised how many members agree with my desire to err on the side of kindness and charity, as opposed to [being] the right-leaning hardliners we are stereotyped as.
Slate: Back to Romney: Are you encouraged that a Mormon could become president?
Allred: It looks like he has a pretty good shot, even though I won’t be voting for him. I guess I pay too much attention to believe he’s anything but a typical politician who just says what it takes to get elected. And I’d be fine to tell him that to his face and give him the chance to honestly explain his inconstancies and hypocrisies. I’m way more impressed with Jon Huntsman, who has yet to spew the contradictions that would turn me off. I like him a lot. He has some great ideas.
In any case, it’s unlikely that anyone will keep me from voting for Barack Obama again. I’ve yet to see any politician in my lifetime show more dignity and have a greater desire to truly bring people together. A true Christian. It’s been stunning to hear the recent debates on what is Christian and who is Christian. Simple math in my book: Christ is love. If you study his teachings and try to live them, who is to judge?