How Star Wars inspired me to write a comic book about Medieval monks

After watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I couldn’t get the final scene out of my mind. The final few minutes of the film were stunning and the landscape breathtaking. Watching the heroine Rey climb the ancient stone steps and walk past rocky hovels to reach Luke Skywalker has proven to be one of the most enduring scenes I have ever witnessed. However, the filming location struck something in my memory and I knew that what I saw was a real place and had a deep connection to Christianity.

When I returned home I immediately looked it up and sure enough, the Star Wars team filmed the final scene atop Skellig Michael, an ancient monastery off the coast of Ireland. I knew it looked familiar as I vaguely remembered studying early Irish architecture in college and images of the famous beehive huts always fascinated me. From that point on I set out to unravel the fascinating history of the mysterious monks who lived there. What I discovered was truly awe-inspiring.

The monks were amazing men who lived at the edge of the known world, braving harsh weather, uncomfortable living quarters, offering their lives as a sacrifice to God. They left everything they had in search of a “green martyrdom” of self-sacrifice and penance that is shocking to our modern lives of convenience. I further discovered that they saw themselves as “soldiers of Christ” waging a spiritual war against the Evil One, protecting the world with their prayers and mortifications. After delving into their lives I knew I had to write something and bring their story to the masses.

At first, I wrote a short non-fiction book that explored their lives, focusing on what inspired them and how they dedicated their lives to prayer. I answered questions such as, “What was it like 1,000 years ago?” “Why did the monks choose Skellig Michael?” “What was their spirituality like?” “Why did they leave and never return?” It proved to be a successful book, but I felt their story could be told in a different way and reach a wider audience.

Then I thought that the comic book would be a perfect way to present the story in a visual manner. As it was visuals that first captivated me with the island, so I knew it would be a perfect fit. More importantly, I knew comic books had a much wider appeal and could be picked up by people of many different ages.

The comic book format also had the added benefit of directly connecting with the Star Wars community. Many Star Wars fans are avid comic book readers and I saw this as a perfect opportunity to tell the story of these monks to a community that is already familiar with the island. What also connects the monks of Skellig Michael to Star Wars is the fact that George Lucas had Catholic warrior monks in mind when developing the Jedi.

While it is true that the Jedi closely resemble samurai warriors of the past and teach others in the Star Wars universe a belief in the Force that is reminiscent of some Buddhist teachings; George Lucas also fashioned the Jedi after the warrior monks of early Christianity.

In early drafts of the Star Wars script, Lucas wrote about a 16-year-old boy who seeks entrance into the “Intersystems Academy to train as a potential Jedi-Templer.” Lucas deliberately used the word “Jedi-Templer,” in a nod to the warrior religious monks historically known as the “Knights Templar.” After these initial drafts, the word Templer was discarded, but Lucas did not drop the idea entirely, referring to the spiritual sages throughout his films as “Jedi Knights.”

Furthermore the Jedi phrase “May the force be with you,” is in fact derived from the Christian phrase “May the Lord be with you,” a phrase that would have been used by the monks in their ancient liturgy.

What’s interesting is that the Catholic influence on the Star Wars films hasn’t stopped. Director Rian Johnson said of the Caretakers who live on the island in The Last Jedi, “They’re all female, and I wanted them to feel like a remote sort of little nunnery. Neal Scanlan’s crew designed them, and costume designer Michael Kaplan made these working clothes that also reflected sort of a nun-like, spartan sort of existence.”

With all of this in mind I thought a comic book that featured ancient monks reminiscent of the Jedi would be a perfect idea. In this way the comic book crosses Star Wars, fantasy and real-life history. I wrote a script that follows a young man who is struggling to find his place in the world and who defiantly travels to the distant isle off the coast of Ireland. It’s a story about faith, trust and following your ‘gut’ when everyone else is against you. The comic seeks to highlight the spiritual world that is often hidden from our eyes, but on occasion reveals itself in a miraculous fashion.

To bring this comic book to reality I enlisted the help of a talented artist, Michael LaVoy, an up-and-coming artist known for his stunning Living Sparks of God coloring book for kids. Soon after I contacted Michael LaVoy, John Webber, a former animator with Walt Disney Feature Animation, contacted me. He worked as a ruff animation artist for Pocahontas and Hercules as well as a character animator for Mulan, Lilo and Stitch, Brother Bear and other Disney films. John is currently the Associate Chair of the animation department at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). John is an adviser on this project and assists with story development among other things.

After John contacted me I was put in touch with Jim Fern, a veteran comic book artist. Jim became an inker for Marvel in 1983, working on various Spider-Man titles. He later started penciling as a fill-in artist on titles such as Amazing Spider-Man, X-Men Annual #13 (where he co-designed and drew Jubilee in her first story), Transformers, and Wolverine. Fern also started working with DC Comics as an artist on such titles as Legion ’90, Adventures of Superman, Batman, Detective COMICS, and co-created the series Scarlett. He is also co-creater and designer for Crossing Midnight with Mike Carey published by DC’s Vertigo line. In addition to his comic book work, Jim has worked as a Walt Disney World artist for the Disney Design Group. Jim is an active adviser with the project and will be designing the cover artwork.

As this project is a rather new idea I decided to run a Kickstarter campaign, building up a community that will support such a project. The response so far has been extremely positive and the campaign is currently funding, ending on September 12. I am eternally grateful for such a chance to create an amazing comic book series and look forward to many more comic books that blend features of popular culture with religion.