This LA Comic Book Writer Turned Jesus Into A '70s Kung Fu Master

The cover to hardcover graphic novel Jesusfreak. (Courtesy Image Comics)

Joe Casey has been writing comic books for more than 20 years. He's written everything from the Avengers to his own independent comic books, as well as creating hit kids cartoon series Ben 10, but now he's turning to a more classic character — Jesus.

The inspiration for his new hardcover graphic novel Jesusfreak was less the Bible and more '70s exploitation comics, a genre all about over-the-top action.

(You can read four pages from Jesusfreak below.)

"These were comics sold on the newsstand, the spinner rack, the local 7-Eleven, and they were balls-to-the-wall in their content," Casey told LAist via email. "It wasn't about superheroes. It was about horror, sword 'n' sorcery, crime, sci-fi, monsters, etc., and they were not holding back. The fact that kids were buying them appeals to my own subversive streak. If we could get just a taste of those comics into Jesusfreak, then we'll have accomplished something."

TURNING WATER INTO WINE

Casey grew up in the southeast, but he's made his home in Los Angeles for many years. He's been a big name in comics, while also having an impact in animation — he created Ben 10 and has written for many other cartoons.

"Just moving here was probably one of the top three decisions I ever made in my life," Casey said. "Everything I got made fun of and picked on for liking as a kid in my small, Southeastern hometown... I make a decent living off of now that I'm here. It's like a magic trick — turning water into wine, so to speak."

Casey doesn't let the haters get him down — even when those haters go on Fox News to call your latest work "one of those crazy comic books." He was surprised the network even noticed it, but he wasn't shocked once he saw the piece.

"Ultimately, I was kinda disappointed Trump didn't tweet about it," Casey said.

Casey has a history of subversive comic books — one of his best known books, creator-owned opus Sex, explored superhero sexual repression. But Casey said he's mellowed a bit.

"I'm not the punk I used to be, earlier in my career," Casey said. "Creating controversy can be a kick when you're first starting out. But for me now, it's simply about pure artistic expression, creating things that I want to see exist in the world. Whatever the reaction may or may not be, I tend not to worry about it."

While there's violence on the surface of Jesusfreak, that's not what the book is about, according to Casey. He put a ton of research in to make sure he got both the genre and the Jesus of it just right, aiming to give the book a literary feel.

"The so-called 'historical Jesus' is a pretty fascinating phenomenon, and that's where I concentrated the majority of my research when it came to writing the book," Casey said.

A JESUS COMIC BOOK TREND?

Casey's comic is coming out while another comic book take on Jesus has been making news. Second Coming, a story about Jesus learning from a Superman-like hero, was supposed to be published by megapublisher DC Comics. But when the Warner Bros.-owned comic book publisher asked for some changes, creator Mark Russell chose to take his book and publish it independently.

Casey said he's not sure why Jesus comics are so popular at the moment, but all he wants is to be as creative as possible in the medium.

"If I see a trend, I'll usually go 180 degrees in the opposite direction," Casey said. "I've worked hard to have the kind of creative independence I currently enjoy, so I never take it for granted. I use it as best I can to push the envelope. This comic book thing... there's still so much we haven't done with it."

That independent streak is the most obvious in the art style of his collaborator, Benjamin Marra, who has some obvious indie influences.

"Marra's art is, for me, a perfect blend of mainstream values and independent cartooning," Casey said. "In fact, if Marra hadn't agreed to work with me on it, Jesusfreak would not exist. I don't think I could've found any other artist that was so perfect for the subject matter and the aesthetic approach."

You can see how their collaboration works out now — and as a hardcover graphic novel, it should soon be widely available from book stores. It's available in comic book stores and digitally now.

Read four pages from Jesusfreak here: