The Flying Friar Returns This October – In Color!
It was a simple idea. What if a story about a miraculous Saint could be told using the pop cultural relevance of the superhero?
St Joseph of Copertino fitted the bill. Born in a rural society in 16th century Italy, he discovered that when he prayed - he could fly, see microscopically and exhibit feats of great strength. Dubbed the Flying Friar he was sainted a century later, and his story lives on through the town of Copertino, in which he grew up.
So when London advertising copywriter Rich Johnston took this as a springboard for a graphic novella with German artist Thomas Nachlik, he looked to the popular TV hit Smallville to provide him with the notes he had to play. A childhood friend and great nephew of Martin Luther, Lux Luther, becomes Joseph's foil. And in a world of inquisitions and torturing of Galileo, the battle between religion and science takes on a very different tone to the one we know today.
Published in black and white in a small print run by Speakeasy Publishing in early 2006, The Flying Friar nevertheless saw worldwide media coverage from The Times of London and the Catholic Herald to Variety and Aint It Cool News This led to an instant sell out and an invitation for the author and his family to visit Copertino by the town's mayor.
But with the original publisher now closed, remaining copies sell for many times the books cover price online. Leading British publisher Markosia saw this, and decided that it was time to step in.
"I was a massive fan of The Flying Friar in black and white." Harry Markos, Managing Partner and Publisher of Markosia explained. "It was a shame that so many people missed out on this book due to the lack of available copies, and true fans shouldn't have to pay exorbitant fees for such a title. We spoke with Rich about perhaps bringing it out again, this time with extras, some back matter to the story itself, as well as a 'what happened' for Rich when he went over there. And of course, this would provide the opportunity to provide some colour to the pages."
With Rich agreeing to re-print The Flying Friar under the Markosia banner, Harry Markos and his Markosia team went to work on the pages, enabling the book to be republished in full colour for October. In addition to the colour the new volume will feature a large variety of DVD-style extras, including unseen artwork, a photo journal of Copertino and original script.
So why return to the book? Rich Johnston explained his motivation. "The Flying Friar is a book juxtaposing the ideas and iconography behind Smallville and Superman and the real life story of a 17th century monk from Copertino in Italy, who could levitate and perform all sorts of wondrous acts, via the grace of God. So, while I saw it as having an appeal for the direct market, I always had my eye on an wider audience. The collapse of Speakeasy prevented me from accessing that audience, but Markosia has plans to directly tap into it. Markosia has links with a Christian bookstore distributor in the USA who is very interested in this project."
There have been a number of attempts at Christian comic book fiction, but few have had lasting impact or indeed critical reaction. But Johnston believes The Flying Friar is different.
"Much is to do with the fact that The Flying Friar doesn't accept doctrine, it's very questioning and very political. It takes the current public battle between religion and science and transposes it to a time when to even question religion could find you tortured. This comic steps from the pages of the Bible to the pages of The God Delusion and back again repeatedly – as well as having a third foot in Smallville."
"The Times newspaper ran a large feature and the Catholic Times made it a front page feature. As a result, The Flying Friar sold out almost immediately . There was one store I persuaded to stock fifty copies of in advance, promising I'd buy back any unsold copies, and they sold out in less than a week. But Speakeasy's demise meant the book never got a second printing and it currently sells online for three times its original cover price. But I first got an inkling as to how big the book could be, when I was invited out by the mayor of Copertino to see the town and take part in a celebration of The Flying Friar . I spent four days in the town with my wife being treated like Brad and Angelina. We were on the local radio, television and newspapers and everywhere we went people took our photos and no one would let us pay for food or drink. It was quite remarkable."
With the new colour printing from Markosia, maybe Johnston will be invited back rather soon.
And the Mayor of Coppertino isn't the only one to sing the book's praises. Variety said it was "well-paced, well-scripted and beautifully drawn... A-" Ain't It Cool News said "exceptionally thought-provoking... Beautiful, beautiful stuff." and IGN.com called it "A 'Must Read'"
The Flying Friar returns to your local comic store in October - and will be advertised in the August Previews.