SAN DIEGO — There are moments when a life is changed forever.
Mario DeMatteo experienced one in 2004 when, during a vacation in Costa Rica, he took a dive into a hotel swimming pool.
“Why I dove into that dark swimming pool, I will never know,” the 32-year-old said. “When I hit the bottom, I immediately knew I was paralyzed. I held my breath for as long as I could and then the lights went out.”
After three days in a Costa Rican hospital, he was flown back home to San Diego on a medical flight. He underwent intensive surgery on his neck and would spend four months in the hospital. It was soon clear that, because of his spinal cord injury, his old life was over.
“I remember praying to God that He would just let me die,” DeMatteo said. “How could I possibly live in a wheelchair?”
But God had other plans, and DeMatteo is grateful for that.
After being discharged from the hospital, DeMatteo developed a passion for writing and drawing. He went to art school, found work as a graphic designer, and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Literature and Writing from California State University, San Marcos.
Today, he is the founder of the independent Christian publishing company Beartruth Collective LLC and the publisher and co-creator (with Ben Avery and Mark Harmon) of its first book, Paul the Apostle: A Graphic Novel.
Taking inspiration from the science-fiction and fantasy stories DeMatteo has loved since his youth, the graphic novel faithfully re-tells the saint’s story, but with a unique twist.
“Paul the Apostle: A Graphic Novel is the biblically-based account of St. Paul from the Book of Acts in the Bible, set in a futuristic ‘Star Wars’-esque universe. We use awesome-looking cartoon creatures instead of humans,” said DeMatteo, who explained that the protagonist himself is depicted as a tail-less “fox-man” who “rocks a mohawk from time to time.”
“All the names and places are the actual Biblical names and places,” he said of the graphic novel, which is designed for ages 8 to 13. “What we did is repaint the Biblical story in a unique science-fiction visual language to illuminate the story in a new way for children and families to enjoy together.”
DeMatteo, who attended St. Patrick School in Carlsbad from kindergarten through eighth grade, believes that comics are an excellent vehicle for communicating the Gospel message.
“Comic books … have a unique ability to combine verbal and visual storytelling in a very engaging way that can bring the already awesome Bible stories to life,” he said.
DeMatteo notes that he is far from the first to combine Christianity and comics, and he quipped that Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes are themselves “one great comic book unfolded across the walls.”
Because children are naturally drawn to them, he said, comics provide “a good entry point into the Bible for many children who might be intimidated by the vast text that is the Bible.”
Regarding the story of St. Paul, DeMatteo remembers being “absolutely floored” when he first read the account of the saint’s life in the Acts of the Apostles.
“The transformation he undergoes, from being a great persecutor of the early Church to becoming one of its greatest advocates, is just so cool,” he said, suggesting that this transformation “offers hope for all of humanity.” He added that people can also take inspiration from the saint’s endurance and perseverance in the face of his great suffering.
DeMatteo said Beartruth Collective is currently preparing a study guide to accompany Paul the Apostle. Work is also underway on Peter the Apostle: A Graphic Novel, inspired by the life of another saint of the early Church. He said the company has “big dreams of creating an entire illustrated comic-book Bible set in this awesome [science-fiction inspired] universe.”
With this first book in the series, he said, “It is my hope that children will be entertained, while at the same time being educated about the amazing life of St. Paul and his unwavering faith in Jesus. Our ultimate goal is to get children interested in the Bible.”
Paul the Apostle: A Graphic Novel is available exclusively at www.beartruthcollective.com.