Richard Pace on Second Coming – "The Church Is Terrible At Delivering Jesus's Message, Especially Evangelicals

On Sunday, March 1st, at C2E2 2020, I caught up with Richard Pace. He told me all about "Second Coming, Volume 1" which is drawn by him, written by Mark Russell and published by Ahoy Comics. Additionally, we talked about superheroes, Chicago pizza, Jesus Christ and the petition that was launched to try and get "Second Coming" banned.

Bleeding Cool: Who are some of your artistic influences?

Richard Pace: I would say right off the top, Frank Frazetta, Bernie Wrightson and Bill Sienkiewicz.

Bleeding Cool: What do you like about them?

Richard Pace: What's not to like about them? I mean, Frazetta had nothing but primal power and brilliant use of color, Wrightson had this mastery of ink line that I still aspire to and Bill Sienkiewicz has this incredible drive to continually experiment and find new ways to deliver information through the image that I also aspire to.

Bleeding Cool: So, tell me about Second Coming and what happened with DC Comics?

Richard Pace: Well, the story… I've been telling it enough that I can keep it kind of simple. Mark Russell had a great idea for "what if Superman and Jesus Christ for roommates?" And Dan DiDio said, "That's a great idea. We can do it at Vertigo, we can't do it at mainstream DC." So Vertigo's handling the book, they bring me on board, we start creating the book, Warner Brothers gets really upset after a petition is launched for them to cancel the book. Dan DiDio is faced with a choice: either censor the book, shelve it or give it back to us. Now, he really believed in the book, he fought really hard for the book, so ultimately his decision I think was colored by the fact that he wasn't going to be able to publish the book he said, "Yes" to. He gave it back to us, we found the perfect publisher for it with Ahoy Comics and everything's been golden since.

Bleeding Cool: Tell me about this petition.

Richard Pace: Well, there was a petition. It was like a quarter-million people who were just upset at the very idea of Jesus Christ being in a comic book. So, it's literally people who will never buy comics upset that we're publishing a comic book. And Warner Brothers had the brilliant idea of "let's neuter the comic book to appease the people who will never buy it but make it completely unattractive to the people who would buy it".

Bleeding Cool: Right.

Richard Pace: And so, then the move to Ahoy happened, the book sold so much better because of the controversy and so, I mean, they lose.

Bleeding Cool: Was this book pitched to you or was it both of you guys' idea?

Richard Pace: Well, I wanted to work after doing the covers for Imaginary Fiends at Vertigo. I really enjoyed working with Molly Mahan, my then editor, and she was the one handling Second Coming initially and she thought I'd be a good fit for the book. And so that's how I got partnered with it, but since then, I think I've very much become a real creative partner in the book. I mean, Mark trusts me in the changes I make to how he does the storytelling in terms of the script and I add things that aren't there in the script that really enrich the worldview and everything. So it's a good experience. I feel like a full partner in this project.

Bleeding Cool: How are you enjoying C2E2 this year?

Richard Pace: I got to tell you, it's not as busy as New York. I don't think anything is as busy as New York right now, but I love how well ReedPOP organizes the show. I did really well. Chicago fans are amazing. I love coming to Chicago. I'll come every year they'll have me. And it's just, it's always a great experience. So many people come up and they just have unfettered love of comics and you just get that buzz from it.

Bleeding Cool: And you love Chicago pizza, right?

Richard Pace: Well, I had some last night. I had some last year when I was here. It's really good pizza. It's weird pizza. I think if you live around Chicago pizza with all that bread, you get used to it, but it's I come from a thin slice pizza type place, right? Toronto back up in Canada. And so when you come here and there's all that bread, you just kind of go, "Carbs. Good, good carbs".

Bleeding Cool: What do you love about comics?

Richard Pace: Oh, what's not to love about comics? It's a storytelling medium. So if you love stories, you're going to love comics because there's great stories in it. But it's also a visual medium. If you love art, you're going to love comics because it's a visual medium and it puts the two together in a way that no other media can do. You can't… there are things you can do in comics you can't do in any other media no matter how hard they try. They try to do motion comics, they try to do animated comics, they try to do video game comics and it doesn't work because the best thing about comics is the reader gets to determine how fast they go through the comic book. They determine how long they look at a picture. They determine how long they actually absorb the dialogue in the captions. No other media actually allows the reader to be that engaged intellectually and emotionally with the material as they proceed through it.

Bleeding Cool: Given the content in Second Coming, what's your views on religion?

Richard Pace: Well, I'm an atheist, but I was born into a Catholic family and I believe Jesus Christ is probably one of the great cultural philosophers in our history. So, it's like, I think there's a predisposition for people to think atheists are angry anti-God people. And no, this atheist in particular is only angry when it comes to organized religion because organized religion is designed to sustain itself and at the cost of the people it's supposed to serve. Whereas if you read what's written about Jesus in the New Testament, it was very much "there shouldn't be a church, everyone should be self-sustaining and if they're not able to self-sustain, the community should sustain them". And the church is an artificial community where it actually neuters its own message or the message of Jesus in terms of learning how to take care of yourself and those you love.

Bleeding Cool: So, what's the message of Second Coming?

Richard Pace: Don't be an asshole.

Bleeding Cool: That's a good message.

Richard Pace: Yeah. I mean, it's great. This weekend a lot of people brought up Christopher Moore's Lamb, which is a great book along similar lines. It wasn't protested of course, because Warner Brothers wasn't publishing it as a comic book. It was a novel. And the reality is the church is terrible at delivering Jesus' message, especially evangelicals. I mean, it's hard to actually have sympathy for evangelicals who believe that Christ has to always be perfect. Because I mean, being born Catholic, the idea was that Jesus was the merger of the divine and humanity and you need that humanity, that fear of dying on the cross, that suffering that he was going to experience to actually make his sacrifice have meaning.

If Jesus was infallible and incredibly divine, his sacrifice was preordained from the start and therefore has no meaning because this suffering was temporal. And a more human Jesus, the one who had the chance to live a human life and realized what he was giving up at the end of it – that's a Jesus that actually says something to people. And I think ultimately, that's why the people who hate the book are never going to read it. Because reading it would be too much for them to handle. They just can't handle the idea of a very human Jesus.

Bleeding Cool: Mark Russell wrote in the introduction in the first issue about how Jesus is similar to a superhero that's why he kind of put them together.

Richard Pace: Yeah. Yeah, I agree very much with what the… Mark and I agree very much about everything on this book, which we found that out later as we worked on the book longer. Yeah. I mean, he had a very melodramatic story. He clearly had superpowers. He had allies or a supergroup. Right? And he had a nemesis. And so all the tropes of what actually goes into making a good comic book are right there with Jesus Christ. I think the brilliance, and this is Mark's call on this, is our Jesus in the modern world doesn't do miracles because he actually saw that as part of the problem. Look, I can do a magic trick. Oh, my God, he does magic tricks. Do more, do more, which takes away from the message. Right? And the message is don't be an asshole. Okay? And a lot of people just said, "Well, if you can do miracles, you can be an asshole."

Bleeding Cool: Right.

Richard Pace: And which is again, the problem with modern superheroes. I mean, even the movies, most of the movies, every solution is… There's an old saying, okay? If you're a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Right? And with superheroes, every problem is a fight. The solution to every problem is a fight. Everything that happens to them is violent. Okay? There are no, we out fought you. Okay? Even "Endgame" where it's like, they set up everything and it's a big mental puzzle, and they had to undo what Thanos did, it still turned it into a big fight, right? You have to fight to actually solve the problem.

So, it's very much… Second Coming is a deep analysis of how our culture perceives both faith and violence. And in America and North America in general, we're both strongly faithful and violent cultures regardless of what faith we have. Even the lack of faith is incredibly violent. And I think that's why a lot of people are digging the book, because we're looking at those things right now when we really have to. We have to look at what we're doing and "why are we sending soldiers somewhere? Why are we arguing what we believe when it's hurting people?"

Bleeding Cool: Are you more of an indie comic book guy? Because you're critical of superheroes.

Richard Pace: Well, no. When superheroes are done well, they transcend a genre.

Bleeding Cool: Yes.

Richard Pace: Anything that leans too heavily in the genre is automatically going to be bad. If it transcends a genre, if you use the tools of genre to tell a better story, then I'm going to enjoy it. I love Al Ewing and company's Hulk, okay? It's a great exploration of what this dual beast is. Okay? So, I love that. But generally speaking, I'm going to find more joy in an indie comic that doesn't have to appease corporate masters.

I mean, Little Bird was a brilliant little book last year and it should have a bigger audience. Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker's crime stories are always a joy to read. So, yeah, I think the older I get, the more I'm going to find stories worth reading in indie comics, but I don't think that's inherent of indie comics. There's a lot of bad indie comics I don't read. I think it's inherent with the creators who want to do more with the medium.

Bleeding Cool: How did Second Coming get to Ahoy Comics?

Richard Pace: Well, when we got given the book back, we had our choice of everyone except for Image, essentially. And the only reason that Image wasn't in the running was because they were publishing two Jesus books on their schedule – Jesus Freak and I think American Jesus. So, they didn't really want the hassle of a third. And looking at the landscape of, I mean, I don't even want to say names, but pretty much everyone wanted the book, even people who couldn't afford to publish the book. They wanted it because they knew it would be a hit, but the only company that seemed to make sense was the company run by two guys from Vertigo in the 90s, Tom Pyre and Stuart Moore. And they had the experience and the knowledge of the industry and on top of that, they're running a primarily satirical comic book company.

I mean Wrong Earth, Captain Ginger, all these books are brilliant, funny books that are looking at society a certain way. They were at home. Second Coming's at home with those books. If you stuck us in, let's say, any other publishers, say Dynamite or IDW, we would stick out like a sore thumb and probably be forgotten. I mean, it's like how do you rock us next to GI Joe? You really can't, so.

Bleeding Cool: When is another volume coming out?

Richard Pace: There is another volume coming out. I'm working on issue eight right now. People are going to be excited about it because Jesus goes to a Christian theme park. Yeah. We're going to be doing the Saga-style approach where we do an arc, take a little break, put the trade out and pick up again.

And so, I believe the next arc is going to be in comic shops this summer and with the trade to follow either by Christmas or same time next year, if not sooner. And the whole team's together. It's Mark, me, Leonard, Andy and Troy with Tom Pyre still on edits and I'm taking over covers. The only real change is Amanda Connor is leaving covers and I'm taking over, which I'm also excited about. But we're going to miss Amanda because she has this great sense of humor. So yeah, that's pretty much it, we're picking up where we left off.

Bleeding Cool: Cool. Well, good luck on the book. I'm glad it's doing well.

Richard Pace: Thank you very much.

INTERVIEW: Richard Pace on Faith, Violence, Superheroes and