Matthew Lickona, author of “Swimming with Scapulars: True Confessions of a Young Catholic,” is now releasing a five-part comic series about a fetus named Alphonse who survives an abortion attempt and “sets out on a mission of revenge,” while his only friend persistently reminds him that payback isn’t the answer.
The first issue, titled, “Untimely Ripp’d” is described as a story about the intersection of eight lives following an attempted abortion on Alphonse.
For readers unfamiliar with the Japanese cartoons known as “Manga,” the powers attributed to Alphonse might seem ridiculous. But the exaggeration of emotions, actions and powers is part and parcel of the Manga style, which has become quite popular with American youth in the form of “Anime.”
The comic’s website explains that Alphonse is "grotesquely abnormal" due to his mother’s “use of controlled substances” which has left him “both sentient and coordinated.”
“He is also deeply wounded, twisted by fear and rage after the attempt on his life, and bent on revenge,” the site says. “But violence begets violence. Alphonse is pursued even as he is pursuing, and haunted by the claim that there may be another way... .”
Alphonse is “a living nightmare” Lickona explained in an interview with CNA. The author likened the character to “‘the Misfit’ in Flannery O’Connor’s short story ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’ – a twisted, violent soul who nonetheless bears a kind of prophetic witness, both in spite of the violence and, in a way, through it.”
The idea for Alphonse was created when Lickona, who also writes for The San Diego Reader, saw Gary Cangemi’s “Umbert the Unborn” in the National Catholic Register.
He explained to CNA that when he read about Umbert, the wheels in his head began to turn: “What if there really was a sentient fetus, suspended upside down in the dark, barely able to move, completely dependent on its mother for sustenance and care, and constantly aware of the fact that, at any moment, it could be killed? That if Mom made the fateful choice, there was nothing - not even the law - standing between it and violent death? Month after month in the dark, wondering when the axe might fall. What would that experience be like? What would it do to a person?”
“Alphonse was born out of that question,” he explained.
Lickona began to build on the initial inspiration to draw in all sides of the abortion discussion. He explained to CNA that in his own experiences with the topic of abortion left him feeling that “each side was dug in so deep that they were each left shaking their heads in wonder at the wrongheadedness of the opposition.”
In order to help each side enter into the other’s experience, Lickona created each of the eight characters to be as genuine as possible so people on both sides of the abortion debate can “find a way into the story.”
The author also addressed the perceived graphic nature of the comic with CNA.
He acknowledged that there “are limits to what is helpful to show in art,” and that “there are levels of graphic violence that do a disservice to the story by removing the readers from the story and plunging them into awareness of their own revulsion.”
“Some people thought The Passion of the Christ crossed a line. Others did not. Alphonse is a lot less bloody than The Passion, but it is not bloodless. It's a visceral subject,” Lickona responded.
“I did my best to have the violence in Alphonse serve the story, and many people whose judgment I trust think I managed to do it. Others may disagree. All I can say is that I'm not out to rub anybody's face in the muck.”
Readers can access the first issue of Lickona’s comic at IndyPlanet.com: http://www.indyplanet.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=2306