Sunday, April 4, 2021

Chris Yambar (January/February 2006)

In an age during which international terrorism, gasoline prices, abducted children, Supreme Court rulings, and Oprah dominate the headlines, it's sometimes easy to overlook the existence of comic books. It's even easier to overlook the existence of independent comic books. It's easier still to overlook the existence of independent-comic-book writers and artists. And absolutely no one is easier to overlook than independent-comic-book writers and artists who happen to be pop-art painters and Christians.    

Enter Chris Yambar. Not only is he an indie-comic pro and pop-art painter who's a Christian, he's even ordained. (If you don't believe us, you can look under his and his wife's bed, where he keeps his diploma. Or you can check out his very cool website at 
The aggregation of artistic believers over which he presides is called Lion's Heart Fellowship, and their self-stated mission is to "offer an alternative environment of healing and restoration to believers who love God but who have found themselves disenfranchised or unable to freely function within the walls of today's traditional western church setting" and to "offer practical encouragement, creative opportunities for service and artistic expression, and a strong theological base of understanding and applicable education for those willing to become true disciples under the lordship of Jesus Christ." They gather at 2325 Mahoning Avenue, Youngstown, Ohio. Feel free to drop in, BTW. 

Lest you think that, as a Christian, Yambar produces evangelistic tracks a la Jack Chick, forget it. You'd no more find Yambar's work in a "family" bookstore than you'd find the publications of Larry Flynt. Not that Yambar produces comic porn. Far from it. His work is edgy, running the gamut from the acerbically philosophical Mr. Beat and the hilariously anti-heroic masked Mexican wrestler El Mucho Grande to the ambitiously futuristic Orwellian heroine Suicide Blonde and the deceptively primitive Itsi-Kitsi ("Happy Adventure Cat") and Spells Sisters (of Meow-Wow! and Spells: Cauldron of Chills [subtitle: "Mean-Spirited Fun for Everyone"] respectively).  Coolest of all, though, is that Yambar writes for the Bongo Comics Group's Simpson's series ("Simpson's" as in Bart, not O.J., although as a horror-film aficionado Yambar might like to take a stab—er, crack—at the latter).

WITTENBURG DOOR: Lions Heart Fellowship openly solicits creatively and artistically inclined believers. Hasn't the average American evangelical church become comfortable enough with the "creative" people in its midst to render such a specialized ministry as Lions Heart superfluous?   

CHRIS YAMBAR: Don't kid yourself. Creative people still have to put up with a lot of closed-minded utilitarianism in the church. The language of the modern arts is still a "type of tongues" that the church refuses to give any proper voice to or interpretation of.  

DOOR: How do you explain this unfortunate, and lingering, phenomenon?   

YAMBAR: Real art causes conversation, debate, and thoughtfulness. Producing art also requires a certain amount of risk. Sometimes an artist's work will cause a viewer to become uncomfortable or angry. We can't offend a tither now, can we? Realizing that the "tongues of art" are open to interpretation to the unbeliever beyond the walls of the church is still unthinkable to most believers.  

DOOR: Your working with Alice Cooper and Gene Simmons on a Bart Simpson comic is probably unthinkable to most believers as well.  

YAMBAR: I refuse to allow anyone to erect any barriers around what I believe or create. My world has no walls or ceiling, but it has a firm foundation, which I walk on confidently in all directions for as far as I am inspired.  

DOOR: Eloquently put, but we were really hoping that you'd tell us what it was like to hang out with Alice Cooper and Gene Simmons.  

YAMBAR: Alice, who is a solid brother in Christ, was a dream to work with.  

DOOR: And Gene Simmons?  
YAMBAR: The opportunity came up for me to work on an issue of Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horror with a Monsters of Rock theme, so I tracked Gene down and invited him to be a part of it. He jumped at the chance. He's a comic geek too, so we hit it off well and had a good time working together. In fact, I got comp seating at a Kiss concert so close to the stage that I could tell that Gene and Paul were Jewish. 

DOOR: —  

YAMBAR: Anyway, I had given him a copy of my The Collected Fire-Breathing Pope,  which had a story where the Fire-Breathing Pope and Gene have a fire-breathing competition. He must have read the book, which has some invitational (a.k.a. evangelistic) parts throughout, because he decided to "reward" me for my efforts.

DOOR: How? 

YAMBAR: I was sitting at a table with a buddy of mine—he's a Jesus guy too—and Gene stopped by with two attractive young ladies and instructed them to give me their numbers so that when I called them they'd stop by my hotel and show me a good time.   

DOOR: And—?  

YAMBAR: Well, they walked off, but one girl actually walked back to the table and said, "Really, call me, OK?"  

DOOR: Um, you don't happen to have that number, do you?  

YAMBAR: Uh, no. So I said, "Yeah, sure. You take off now," and she took off. My buddy goes, "So let me get this straight: Gene Simmons is picking up trash for you?" I said, "Well, those girls are going to have a fun-filled weekend by themselves, because I can't do that." And he said, "What are you going to do?" I said, "I'm going to let them keep whatever little dignity they have—" 

DOOR: Um, that's exactly what we would've done, too. We think.  

YAMBAR: "—because they're probably going to forget about this in three more steps. I'm not calling them." He said, "Man, you sure love your wife!" I said, "I have to be honest with you: my love for my wife has absolutely nothing to do with my decision. It's my love for those girls that prevents me from looking at them as, and treating them as, objects. How do I exhibit Christian love while I'm abusing their bodies? Besides, later on they're going to find out—somewhere, somehow—that I was a Christian, and what's that going to say to them? I'd be destroying anything that God wants to do with them. I'm not going to be responsible for that."   

DOOR: As fans of Jimmy Swaggart, we're very impressed.   

YAMBAR: I'm not some great saint or anything, but I've had to come up to the line so many times, and I know that once I get into the pool, I'm going to have to swim around with Dr. Frank N. Furter.   

DOOR: Uh, our Amish readers might not know who— 

YAMBAR: Dr. Frank N. Furter is the "sweet transvestite from trans-sexual Transylvania" in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.   

DOOR: —  


DOOR: Some Christian parents would probably consider the nature of some of your comic scripts too "worldly" for their kids.   

YAMBAR: First, 90 percent of comics today are not being read by children. Second, I don't create my work to make points with Christians. Too many Christians are so uptight they wouldn't recognize a good joke if it bit them in the [hiney]. We've got too many people in the Body of Christ who are socially unable to get beyond the imposed rule books and mental boxes designed by their church-ghetto leadership.  

DOOR: Please feel free to say what's really on your mind.  

YAMBAR: You'd be surprised how many people are not practical in their understanding that Jesus—the heart and mind of the Father—came to live here in a physical form just like us. They don't get it.  They've turned Him into some mythological, effeminate Thor character. I mean, I've never seen any Jew that looked like the paintings of Christ that we have here.   

DOOR: Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley certainly don't. 

YAMBAR: One of the greatest images I ever saw painted of Christ was issued by Larry Flynt. It presented a traditional Jesus laughing as if He had just heard a good joke. God bless Larry Flynt for that!   

DOOR: Uh, we somehow missed that issue of Hustler.  

YAMBAR: I did too, but it's in the movie The People Vs. Larry Flynt. Anyway, there's a lot of joy missing in today's modern church world. When my job mandates that I make people laugh, there are no sacred cows. I make burgers. I believe in the sobriety and sacredness of the Gospel, but I also celebrate the moment that I live in, too.  

DOOR: A lot of Christians would be uncomfortable immersing themselves in pop culture to the extent that you have. 

YAMBAR: We are in the world and not of it. Pop culture is shallow and continually changing, and coolness and fashion are uncatchable demons, but you can focus on strengthening the things the really matter, the things that will remain when this outhouse goes up in flames, the things important to our heavenly Father. That's what will keep us from being swallowed by our culture. Ironically, these are the same things that will make us able to impact it and make it come alive.  

DOOR: In the postscript to Suicide Blonde, you say that you read "40-plus non-comic books a year." Can you identify three that have significantly affected the way you look at the world?  

YAMBAR: More Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, and Lynch on Lynch.  

DOOR: Is Lynch on Lynch more pornography or a chronicle of racist hangings in the Deep South?  

YAMBAR: Uh, that's by David Lynch, the director. He's just basically talking about himself. I find him to be absolutely fascinating. He deals with truth but from the dark side.  

DOOR: Do tell.  

YAMBAR: Sometimes, I think that you have to fire a blank gun in church in order to wake some people up. There has to be some sort of device or mannerism used in order to hook somebody, and not just tap them on the shoulder but take them by both sides of their face and aim their attention. David Lynch's films have a tendency to do that.  

DOOR: What made you opt for Christ back in the '70s?   

YAMBAR: When I was younger, I was on a quest for truth—Absolute Truth: who, what where, when, how, why, and how much. I was raised Catholic but grew disenchanted early because everything was written off as either 1) "That's just the way we've always done things, so you're just going to have to accept it" or 2) "It's a mystery of the Church." I got so fed up hearing that jive that I once told a priest that he should consider hiring Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys so they could get to the bottom of all of this mystery mess.   

DOOR: The Hardy Boys? Nancy Drew?  

YAMBAR: I went on to study Buddhism and Taoism, but that just turned out to be man-made philosophy. The Buddha himself even made this declaration. Socialism proved itself to be as much of a blown tool as capitalism. It's all about caste systems. Finally, a friend handed me a Bible in a parking lot, and I took it home to read it for myself. I figured that if I was going to reject something, then I'd better reject it from the source rather than from the byproduct of the source. After reading the Bible for myself, I was stunned at how much I didn't know about any of it and what a screwed-up understanding I had about who Christ really was. I gave my life to God in 1978 and have been actively looking for a way out ever since (laughs).   

DOOR: We know the feeling. 

YAMBAR: But I made a pact with God that I would continue to follow Him through Christ as long as Christ stood up to every possible question, and I haven't had to go any further. But I must say that if it weren't for the reality of Jesus, I'd have left Christianity a long time ago. This generation of Christians is a real letdown.   

DOOR: We know that feeling, too.  

YAMBAR: It's all about self-preservation and personal gain with many of these people. Christians today are more offended by cuss words than they are about words like "hunger," "hate," and "greed."  

DOOR: We ...  

YAMBAR: And the lack of practical Bible knowledge in the modern church is frightening to me. When I compare my Biblical understanding of Christ to the popular Western version I hear preached so often here in America, I can't help believing that there are two Christs walking the earth.   

DOOR: The "mythological effeminate Thor" Christ and—  

YAMBAR: The one with the dirt under his nails, no pun intended. And in the end, my money's on the one with the dirt under his nails.  

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