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Comic Books and Warrior Priests: An Interview with Douglas Ernst

July 30, 2019


Comic book heroes have taken the cultural imagination by storm over the past century. The genre is not often seen as a source of truth and beauty. However, Douglas Ernst, the author of a new sort of comic book, sees the power of comics and hopes to provide a piece of culture that speaks to beauty, goodness, and truth.

Tell us a little about the kind of guy who writes graphic novels about combat veterans turned exorcists. What is your background and the inspiration for Soulfinder: Demon’s Match?

Douglas Ernst: The short answer is that I’m a Catholic man who grew up loving superhero tales before enlisting in the US Army when I was eighteen years old. The more detailed response is that I’m a writer by vocation, I care about our culture, and I want to tell tales that inspire the next generation’s G.K. Chesterton or J.R.R. Tolkien. I worked for many years in Washington, DC, dealing with media, political issues, and nonprofit organizations, but I believe the saying “Politics is downstream from culture.” Much of my free time is spent trying to reach people who have marinated in a culture of moral relativism and bring them to a kind of psychological and spiritual epiphany like the one Thomas Merton details in The Seven Storey Mountain.

I think Bishop Barron’s YouTube channel—particularly its movie reviews—were far ahead of the power curve. My YouTube channel doesn’t have the same reach, but I’d like to believe that we both share similar goals.

Tell us more about Soulfinder: Demon’s Match, its genre, and what you hope to accomplish through your artistic expression. 

DE: We become, for all intents and purposes, the stories we tell about ourselves. The problem is that so much of the fiction we consume these days is intellectually and morally confused. It’s hard to know the difference between heroes and villains. Stories seem to give audiences endless shades of grey, which on top of everything else is incredibly boring. Soulfinder in many ways is a rejection of the cultural poison that Hollywood has been pumping out for years. The book flirts with many different genres—mystery, horror, action, and adventure—in much the same way the Indiana Jones films did over the years.

One of the things that I love about Word on Fire is its clarion call to value the good, the true, and the beautiful. All too often, however, it seems that many Catholics underestimate the value of the beautiful. One way to combat Hollywood’s deleterious effect on our culture is for people with functioning moral compasses to support quality writers and artists.

Comic books are often the inspiration for films that gross hundreds of millions of dollars, sometimes over $1 billion, at the box office. The cultural power of such films and comics cannot be understated. My hope is to provide a quality story with a tinge of moral imagination to awaken the hearts and souls of my readers. Soulfinder, which has already raised more than $25,000, is my attempt to get the ball rolling.

Tell us more about how you went about crafting a narrative. 

DE: Much of the comic book genre today falls into the postmodern ideals of a flattening of the power of good and evil. When I first started crafting Soulfinder I wanted to make it very clear that evil does exist—and there is no better way to do that than to pit my heroes (i.e., Catholic priests Patrick Retter and Reginald Crane) up against demonic forces.

The next step was to try and focus on universal questions and big ideas. I decided on the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and the idea that bearing our crosses with grace and dignity is inherently virtuous. The book is informed by my faith, but I never wanted it to come across as preachy. The goal was to tell a multi-layered story that entertains on whatever level the reader wants to examine it. Readers who solely want to be enthralled by Catholic priests battling demonic king cobras can do that; others who want references to well-known Trappist monks will also walk away smiling if I did my job right.

My hope regarding the beautiful is that the art speaks for itself. Everyone who contributed to the book—Timothy Lim, Brett R. Smith, Dave Dorman, and Matt Weldon—are total professionals.

You mentioned The Seven Storey Mountain as an inspiration, but are there any other religious books that guided your thinking during the creative process? 

DE: There are a few books off the top of my head that I know influenced the script. The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s Your Life is Worth Living; Hubert Van Zeller’s Suffering: The Cross of Christ and Its Meaning for You; St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul; Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation; and numerous works by C.S. Lewis all shaped the creation of Soulfinder. I also did quite a bit of research into exorcisms and ran the script by three Catholic friends I respect to make sure I didn’t inadvertently say something heretical.

Do you have any advice for other Catholic writers out there?

Douglas Ernst: Have patience! Patience is a virtue. I wanted to write a graphic novel years ago, but as time has gone on I realize that God knows far better what I need and when I need it than I do (understatement of the year nominee). Keep reading, keep writing, keep plugging away and cultivating honest and sincere relationships, and things will work out as they’re supposed to in the end. With that said, I’m always happy to lend an ear to a fellow writer. I can be reached at [email protected] for any questions regarding Soulfinder, the craft of writing, funding independent projects, or anything else along those lines. If I can find a way to give back, then I will.