Chris Schweizer’s Paper Nativity Informational Notes

Over the next month, Chris Schweizer will be offering thoughts on the Nativity set model (a large papercraft crèche) mentioned last week that you can find and download here:

https://gumroad.com/l/ThkR

Rather than run it everyday Chris has given us permission to run it every few days.

Day 1: Marymar

My version of Mary is influenced by The Gospel of the Origin of the Blessed Version and the Childhood of the Savior, now generally known as The Gospel of Psuedo-Matthew, written in the early 7th century for a Christian community clamoring for Jesus prequels, and from the Protevangelium, written about fifty years after the Gospel of Luke was laid down. Both were important sources for medieval sacred art.

Mary is was the only daughter of Joachim and Anna, two extremely righteous people who found themselves childless in middle age. Despite his piety and charity, Joachim (much like Job) was suspected of wickedness by his neighbors, here because God had opted to refuse them children. We see echoes of the many other late-in-life-miraculous pregnancies in the Bible here, as their prayers are answered, and Anna becomes pregnant with Mary.

They dedicate Mary to the temple where she goes to live and serve, but as she nears menstrual age the temple priests start to fret. She has to leave before she gets her period, which would defile the holy place. So, with much ceremony to determine a match suitable for such a miraculous child, the priests arrange an engagement between twelve-year-old Mary and Joseph, at whose home she goes to live until she reaches fourteen, at which point their marriage will be consummated.

Now we get to the canonical Gospels, and Mary receives word from the angel Gabriel that she will be with child from the Holy Spirit.

Her soul doth magnify the Lord, yeah, but she’s also barely a teenager and I expect that the attention of the visitors is a little overwhelming, so I drew her curled up, trying to process the magnitude of the whole thing.

Advent Calendar Day 2: Josephjoey

This version of Joseph is influenced by the Gospel of James, or the Protevangelium, written about 60 years after the Gospel of Matthew, and he was probably created/developed in order to support the pet theory on the part of some early Christians that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life. There are a few bits of scripture that run afoul of this concept, but outside of semantic wording there’s still a really big obstacles on this notion: Jesus’s brothers and sisters.

Centuries later there have been plenty of other explanations proffered, but the easiest one (and the one latched on to by early adherents) was that Joseph had been married before he was engaged to Mary, and that the six siblings of Jesus mentioned in the New Testament –Simon, Joseph Jr, Judas (a different one), James, and two unnamed sisters (do they number two in the gospels? I can’t remember, but the plural “sisters” means at least two) – are technically Mary’s stepchildren.

So here’s the story: The priests at the Temple know Mary needs to get married off, but because of the special circumstances surrounding her birth they want to make sure that whatever match occurs is good in the eyes of God. So they summon all of the bachelors in good standing (Joseph, at this point, is a widower), and perform a ceremony to try and discern who God would wish to be Mary’s husband. Joseph goes out of religious obligation, but doesn’t really want to be there. He’s old in his own eyes. He’s had a happy marriage and he misses his wife and he has a bunch of kids, some of whom are already grown, and he doesn’t want to be an old dad with a wife not much older than his youngest child. So he just pays lip service to the ceremony and when all the men are supposed to present their staffs he keeps his at his side. Nothing happens, and the priests do the ceremony again (“we’re not leaving here ‘til God gives us a sign”). One notices that Joseph is basically lip-synching, and they insist he participates. When he does, a dove flies over and lands on his staff.

So Joseph is stuck. He doesn’t want to marry this kid, but the priests insist that it’s his religious obligation.

In some later versions of this story, Mary comes to live at Joseph’s home during the engagement (not unlikely; she wouldn’t have been able to continue living at the temple), learning to run the household and helping to raise (babysit) James, a few years her junior.

Now we get to the Gospel version, which I think finds greater depth via the prequel-reluctant-husband story.

Joseph is engaged to Mary and discovers that she’s pregnant. And he chooses to quietly divorce her (the marriage is pretty much in play once the engagement is solidified; it’s the consummation that finalizes it, held off in this instance because of Mary’s youth) rather than make public her condition or insist on punishment.

Joseph has always been my favorite character in the Bible, and it’s because of this. Even before the story has him learning of the divinity of her pregnancy, he harbors no ill will to her, no desire to reclaim honor by vengeance, no chastisement, nothing of the social barbarity (by our/my standards) that speaks to the time and place and culture from whence he sprung. And from the time I was a kid, I found more nobility in that than near on anything else in the whole book.

The version of Joseph espoused by the early church may have been crafted to explain this calm and measured and merciful side, much at odds with his legalistic predecessors. Joseph is older, so he has the wisdom of experience to recognize and forgive youthful mistakes. He has children, so the usurpation of his bride’s babymaker by another sire doesn’t threaten his bloodline. From a pragmatic fatherly standpoint, his teen biological sons may be at risk of fatal punishment were they suspected of the adulterous union, the most likely paramours given household proximity. And Joseph was a reluctant bridegroom in the first place, so he would likely see Mary’s pregnancy as a blessing, a means by which to remove himself from the engagement through no abandonment of responsibility on his part.

In The Gospel of Matthew Joseph is told in a dream that Mary’s pregnancy is divine, and that God wishes him to wed her.

Though some dogma insists that Joseph was wholeheartedly faithful in his belief of this (there’s even a school of thought championed by St. Thomas Aquinas in which Joseph never suspected any hanky panky and knew that Mary could only have conceived divinely and that the divorce was because he thought himself unworthy, which is such a stretch as to boggle my noggin), but I like reflecting on the perpetual doubt that Joseph must have felt. I prefer my religious figures humanized, and Joseph is at his most admirably human when he discards suspicion, and it doesn’t matter whether that acceptance is rooted in fervent belief or simply the possibility of that belief. That he opts to wed, that he chooses to raise the child as his own, this is the first example we get of the direction that the New Testament will take, this sense of throwing off the legalism of the previous generations for the love and mercy that will be at the heart of Christianity.

My version here has a super fancy staff, much grander than his station would suggest, that I figure he might have made himself as a hobby project, because, you know, carpenter.

Advent Calendar Day 3: James

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James, as depicted here, is Joseph’s youngest biological son, still part of his household, and, as such, likely to have traveled with them to Bethlehem. I have him gathering firewood, as I assume he’d have been the one to run errands, get food, etc, as Joseph stayed near Mary for the sake of both safety and propriety.

In church and narrative tradition, James serves as a counter to Paul in the early church, treating Christianity not as a new religion but as a sect within Judaism. He and Paul are at odds over whether Christ’s message is for the Jews or for the entire world. The apostle Peter serves as their negotiator, espousing a middle path of compromise. James, in a dual role a high priest of the temple AND a bishop of the early Christian church (not, at the time, conflicting stations) serves as a kind of Chief Justice for early church decisions, and accepts Paul’s dogma-shattering recommendation that gentile converts needn’t behave according to Jewish social contract, but with the caveat that certain other behavioral law be implemented.

It’s James, I think, from whom we get the legalistic tradition of Christianity, at least symbolically. Sure, any religion is going to codify behavioral principles over time, but James’ influence directly steers the notion of distinct cultures maintaining their practices in full while still converting to this new faith into what we instead eventually get, which is the desire on the part of the church that the faithful homogenize into the existing Christian culture. I don’t know if this is a widely-held view, or if it’s held at all, but it’s my take on the fella.

Advent Calendar Day 4: Uriel and Lil’ John the Baptist

day 4Jesus’s cousin John, who will later grow up to be the wild-eyed desert mystic and prophet of the Gospels, is probably about six months older than Jesus, and thus presented a problem for theologians who accepted the version of events in which Herod ordered the slaughter of all Hebrew children under the age of two (a deliberate echo by the writer of the Gospel of Matthew to Pharaoh’s edict thirteen hundred years earlier). Why wasn’t John killed?

The story that evolved was that he was spirited away to join the Holy Family whence they had fled in Egypt, and the vehicle of his deliverance was the angel Uriel. You can see a version of this story in the DaVinci painting “Virgin of the Rocks.”

Uriel is, according to Rabbinic tradition, one of the four archangels (the four that we’ve culturally come to accept are Uriel, Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael, listed by name in the Book of Enoch, composed between 100 and 300 BCE).

Angels are tricky. We often take “Messenger of God” mentions as being angels, though context makes it unlikely that they looked inhuman, and rarely is there anything contextual (though theologically there is opposition to this idea) to conflict with the idea that the messengers ARE men, used by God for His purpose. When angels are identified as angels and described, often in the apocalyptic genre with books like Daniel and Revelations, man, they are out there.

Uriel here takes his design partially from Daniel 10 (dressed in linen, belt of gold, eyes like torches, face like lightning, skin like burnished bronze) and partially from Ezekiel, where I pulled the four-faces thing (though this springs up in plenty of other books and in other forms). I gave him human feet instead of calf hooves, though.

Lil’ John here hints at his future in the wilderness, with his filthy matted hair and casual feral nudity.

Download Chris Schweizer’s paper Nativity set

The Crogan Adventures creator is offering more than 30 figures with a backdrop you can download from his web store.

Crogan Adventures creator Chris Schweizer has created a paper Nativity set that he’s offering for free via his online store. [EDIT: Actually it’s a “pay what you want” model, as Gumroad does give you the option to send Schweizer some money when you download it).

The expansive set includes more than 30 3-D figures with a pretty awesome backdrop, which you can download and print out on card stock (the heavier the better, Schweizer advises). He’s also selling the original art from the set as well. Growing up my mom collected various Nativity sets, but I don’t remember her having any that went quite this far into Biblical canon — her sets never included the Little Drummer Boy, Salome or ‘lil John the Baptist, for instance, even if they did occasionally receive visits from my Star Wars figures and Hot Wheels.

Throughout December, Schweizer will do a write-up each day on one of the characters on his blog “At our house, we’ll be using the set like an advent calendar with my daughter, introducing one new figure each day,” he writes. “If you’d like to do the same, I welcome you to use these write-ups as your guide for which characters to introduce in which order, with the write-up to give context.”

You can check out images from the set below.

Nativity-all-figs

Holy-Family

Magi

shepherds

Smash Pages Q&A: Chris Schweizer on ‘555 Character Drawings’

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Let me be clear, writer/artist Chris Schweizer [aka schweizercomics] never does anything in a halfass manner. For proof of this look no further than his latest project, 555 Character Drawings. Or more exactly gander at the nuanced answers he provided for my interview of him about the book. Thanks to Chris for his time and thoughts.

Tim O’Shea: More impressive then the ability to get 555 characters into 91 pages, is the amount of text you produce. How many words does this clock in? Did you have to cut some text for space?

Chris Schweizer: I don’t really have to cut text because I don’t write it independently (and as such I don’t know the word count).  Though I sometimes crib from the commentary on the original blog posts should they be pieces I’d posted online, usually what I do is lay out all of the pages with the drawings, guessing as to how much space I’ll need for each write-up, then write until that space is full.

I feel the same about books as I do meals.  However tasty a dinner at a fancy restaurant may be, small portions leave me feeling like I’m not getting my money’s worth.  Rural frugality, I guess.  With art books I feel the same way.  It’s hard for me to justify spending twenty-five bucks on a fancy sketchbook that has only a handful of drawings in it, though I’ll grudgingly bite the bullet when it’s an artist that I really like.  But I assume that there are plenty of cartooning fans who feel the same way that I do, and so I want anything that I put out to be calorie-heavy.  So cramming as much as humanly possible into any sketchbook or art book is always a priority for me.  I want people to get their money’s worth.  I did the math, and I think it costs less than a nickel per drawing.

Sometimes I’d have a quarter of a page in a particular section left, so I’d just draw more characters.  That happened with The Three Musketeers.  I added three incredibly minor characters because I had page space.

So, yeah, I’d write around the images and do my best to not overdo it.  The only place where I let myself be too self-indulgent was in the Crogan Adventures section, where commentary from one page ran to another.  I just found the research info too neat not to share.  Or I wanted to show off with that info.  It’s easy to let ego take a heavy hand, and though I’ve gotten better about it I’m certainly still susceptible.

The layout is exquisite, particularly given your economic utilization of space. Nothing seems crowded. How hard was it to maintain such a balance?

Thanks, Tim.  It is a balance.  I get flummoxed by sparsity of content, but I’m also turned off when there are too many drawings collaged together with no easy way to process and take them in.  A lot of it is gut reaction to composition for each page.  As soon as something goes into a book, the individual piece on a page stops being the art and the page itself becomes the art, however many pieces are on it.  So I try to make each page appealing aesthetically.  Sometimes I’m more successful than others.

Two extremes: which character almost threw themselves on the page, it flowed out of you; and which character proved to be the most challenging to execute?

The drawings themselves almost always came quick.  Sometimes I’d be unhappy with the result, and I redraw it from scratch, and there are probably ten or twenty pieces in the book that got this treatment.  Some I hit three times.  But the drawings themselves were always done lickity-split.  I spend so much time refining designs for my books, and I wanted to tackle these straight-to-paper.  They were meant to be fun something-to-do-instead-of-comic-pages pieces, so I never labored over them, or tried not to.

But the research leading up to some would take a while.  The Zapatistas in the black history section took about a full day or more of nothing but research, because while I found plenty of photos of Afro-Mex solderas I couldn’t find any documentation about names, and what documentation I found was often erroneous upon deeper digging.  Actually, most of the black history section took a while, because I was narrowing stuff down, trying to find historical figures that fit into popular historical periods that have their own adventure genres (western, medieval, samurai, etc).  Since I’m not in Atlanta anymore I couldn’t utilize the Auburn Avenue library collections, and since I’m no longer affiliated with a college I’ve lost ready access to most online academic journals, so finding credible source material was tricky for pre-1920s black fighting women, especially; much of what’s floating around the internet stems from a single publication from the 70s that cites no primary sources.  I’m not a historian, but when I put up historical stuff (which is a pretty substantial percentage of the work) I want it to be solid and beyond reproach, especially when trying to highlight things that go at odds with the popular perception of history.

But really, everything was researched.  The monsters, French clothing in the 1600s for the Three Musketeers set, book descriptions of characters… I even had to track down pictures of young Wilford Brimley in order to conceive a younger version of his character from a made-for-TV Ewoks movie.  Found an episode of Kung-Fu that he was in in the early 70s.  And guess what?  Young Wilford Brimley looks pretty much the exact same as old Wilford Brimley, just with slightly redder hair.

When you look back at your work, do you ever surprise yourself with an emotional response that it may have not elicited originally. For me (as an observer, not the creator), I crack up every time my eyes fix upon Olympia Maxime.

Not really.  My feeling towards a given drawing usually remains consistent from whenever I finish them.  Most of these I was generally happy with, and the ones that I wasn’t I redrew.  I was really pleased with how the “Ghost Rider in the Sky” in the monster section turned out.  It might be my favorite piece in the book.

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When you release projects like this, how often do fans offer suggestions of characters they would like to see?

Fairly often, via platforms like Twitter and Tumblr.  Usually it’s folks offering suggestions to add to a series that I’ve posted, calling me out on something they see as an absence.  Usually, not always but usually, that omission is intentional.  On the black history series I got more than a hundred notes about how it’s a shame I forgot to include Thomas Alexandre Dumas.  I didn’t.  I was limiting myself to only one figure per historical era, and I opted to include the Chevalier de Saint-Georges for my Regency swashbuckler because I feel like he’s less well-known than Dumas, whose recent biography was pretty high-profile.

It would probably behoove me to ask for suggestions when doing a big section, but I never think to.  Mostly because these are things I’m doing for fun, and I know what I want to draw.

Has Francesco Francavilla seen your version of The Black Beetle? If so, care to share his reaction?

He has seen it.  He’s got the original art for it.

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I ended up scrapping most of the pulp heroes from the book.  There were originally another ten or so, but most of them weren’t really redesigns or fresh interpretations or anything, they were just drawings of Lobster Johnson or the Rocketeer or the Phantom or whomever.  Though I got permission from most of the copyright holders I ended up leaving them out of the book because I felt like they weren’t in keeping with the rest of it, which were redesigns are new interpretations.  But I left the Black Beetle (I didn’t do any design on that one, either, it’s just a drawing of Francesco’s version) in there partially because I figured that on the off chance that there’s someone who likes my stuff that doesn’t know Francesco’s (unlikely!) it could steer that reader his way.

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Above are pulp heroes that Schweizer left out of the book, but happily shared with Smash Pages.

That’s something I wanted to do with most of these pieces.  Introduce characters or figures that I like or find fascinating to people who may not know them, or make them take a fresh look at a character that previous film or TV or illustrated interpretations have made too familiar.   I became interested in Sherlock Holmes when I was in high school because of a manic interpretation vastly different from the Basil Rathbone I’d grown up with; it made the familiar unfamiliar and was a jarring reminder that we can let one interpretation color our perception of something meant to be interpreted individually.   If I can get someone to take a fresh look at a character that they know, that’s very exciting to me.

Do you intend to keep producing these kinds of projects or these types of character sketches?

I put together 555 Character Drawings as a means by which to hopefully put a cap on these drawings.  I was kind of getting obsessive with doing them.  I might do things like these in the future, but I’ll handle them much differently, or try to.

I have been pecking away on similar project – I’ve worked up pencils based on a long stint of research for about two hundred fifty New York street gang members from the 1840s-1860s.  Once I do the 7thRegiment, 11th Artillery, and other militia and army units that actively fought the gangs during the Shakespeare Riot, the Draft Riots, etc, and civilians, it’ll top three hundred figures, easy, and I’ll likely do buildings, too.  But I don’t know what the best way to present it will be.  Maybe as an absurdly large diorama set, maybe as some kind of game, a miniatures game.  I’m thinking that I might do a kickstarter for whatever I do with it.  I’ve never done one for a variety of reasons but if I did it would probably be for something giant and nutty like this.