If you grew up in the 1970s, there is little doubt, no matter which state you grew up in, you came across these comics at one time or another. You didn’t have to live in the Bible Belt to have a Spire Archie Comic cross your path. They were surprisingly ubiquitous.
Spire Comics began in 1972 and continued until 1988. The brand is mostly known for their Christian Archie series, but they also released “non-fiction”/autobiographical comics as well. Let’s take a look at some interesting examples, starting with a best-seller…
HAL LINDSEY’S THERE’S A NEW WORLD COMING (1974)
In 1970, Hal Lindsey started a Christian ministry at UCLA which targeted hippies. That same year, he would release the best-selling The Late, Great Planet Earth. For those that were a bit gobsmacked by the radical cultural changes that had taken place in the few short years from Post-WWII to the counter-culture revolution of the late sixties – this book touched a nerve. In 1974, the book was loosely adapted to a comic book format.
The idea of the Rapture had been floating around various Christian denominations for decades – but Hal Lindsey brought it to the masses. The basic idea is that those who are “saved” get scooped up into paradise, while those not saved are basically f***ed.
I love how the Rapture is here called “The Big Snatch” – which sounds like a porno.
The Larry Norman song referenced in the comic:
Ugh. I don’t care what he’s singing about, the song is poison to my ears.
The Anti-Christ will “turn out to be bad news for everybody”… who knew?
For a Christian comic artist, he sure could draw hot looking women. This shouldn’t be a surprise as artist, Al Hartley, had been drawing Betty and Veronica for Archie Comics, as well as the very adult-oriented “The Adventures of Pussycat”. Hartley gave up the work after becoming a born again Christian in 1967.
“It all fits together so perfectly!” Once you too have that hypnotized look in your eyes like this girl, you’re ready for a whole series of Spire Christian comic books…
No report on Spire comics is complete without mention of the next title..
DAVID WILKERSON’S THE CROSS AND THE SWITCHBLADE (1973)
The Cross and the Switchblade was a 1972 adaptation of a book written in 1962 by pastor David Wilkerson with John and Elizabeth Sherrill. It tells the true story of Wilkerson’s first five years in New York City, where he ministered to disillusioned youth, encouraging them to turn away from the drugs and gang violence they were involved with. The book became a best seller, with more than 15 million copies distributed in over 30 languages. (source)
The transformation of the nation’s largest city to a crime infested shithole in the seventies had to have been shocking to those who’d watched its decline. To some, it was a wake-up call to turn from “degeneracy” and become “born again”.
Wilkerson meets Maria; he immediately assesses “she’s high” and gets to evangelizing.
When Maria decides it’s time to “stick myself like a pig”, the comic gets unexpectedly dark…
But it all ends up good; Jesus saves ’em. THE END
We couldn’t discuss Spire Comics without mentioning…
HANSI: THE GIRL WHO LOVED THE SWASTIKA
Hansi was adapted from Maria Anne Hirschman’s semi-autobiographical novel, illustrated by Archie artist Al Hartley.
Young Hansi is introduced to the Swastika and becomes indoctrinated…
When the Allies defeat Hitler, she falls under Soviet rule, but manages to escape…
Hansi meets a strapping young lad who tells her about Jesus…
Together, they travel to America to preach the Good Word…
Like the preacher in the previous comic, they’re horrified by the state of affairs in the big city.
Hansi becomes an evangelist for the hippies and inner-city riff-raff, proclaiming the gospel and rallying patriotism. (The full comic is here.)
We’ll end with The Man in Black…
HELLO, I’M JOHNNY CASH (1976)
Johnny tells us how he fell off the straight-and-narrow, but was able to get back on the golden path.
Cash explains that, while stationed overseas, he learned to party hard with German girls.
A moment of introspection: a half-drunk Cash realizes he’s strayed. But just as he’s about to return to a life of piety, he hits it big in the music industry.
As I said, Al Hartley certainly knew how to draw a sexy lady in his Christian comics.
Taking pills and booze, Cash is plagued by the positive influences in his life – his wife, June Carter, and his mother.
Finally, Cash is saved with the help of June. Soon, he’s traveling the world spreading the Good News.
There were other Spire comics, God’s Smuggler (bio of Brother Andrew) and Joseph T. Bayly’s The Gospel Blimp; but you get the picture. Spire comics certainly aren’t for everyone, and they could get pretty strange – but they’re an interesting time capsule of pop culture’s intersection with 1970s fundamentalist Christianity that is worth a look.