Shooting the Papal Bull: Kirkman talks Animated Battle Pope

Last weekend, New York City played host to both its third annual Comic Con as well as Pope Benedict XVI. While the Pope’s visit and the comic convention do not appear to have been related in any meaningful way, popes and comics do share a long and storied history, stretching back at least to the year 2000 A.D., when Robert Kirkman’s “Battle Pope” first came on the scene. Recently, though, much in the same way the papacy of John Paul II gave way to Benedict XVI, “Battle Pope” has undergone a transformation of its own, moving from the realm of comics to an animated series on Spike TV.com. CBR News caught up with Kirkman to discuss “Battle Pope’s” latest (re)incarnation.

Debuting in a self-published series by Kirkman and artist Tony Moore back in 2000, “Battle Pope” has undergone a few revivals throughout the years, including a color reprint series from Image Comics. “'Battle Pope’ was my absolute first published comic,” Kirkman told CBR News. “It was the beginning of my career in comics and despite being slightly controversial, it holds a very dear place in my heart. That said, the main reason I've returned to it are the tall online content dollars -- all joking aside, the opportunity to see the characters running around and speaking in animation was the big appeal of this for me. It's fun to see this go from something Tony Moore and I made in a room of the little shack I was living in when I started in comics to an actually cartoon-type thing. It's very exciting.”

The “slight” controversy may have something to do with the titular gun-toting pontiff, and it might have something a bit more to do with his layabout roommate, Jesus Christ. “Battle Pope is the hard drinking, hard living Pope of a future where God came down to call his children up to heaven--Pope was left behind, along with all the other sinners,” Kirkman said of the concept. “Shortly after God had abandoned the sinners on Earth--hell burst at the seams and the legions of demons in hell spilled out onto the Earth. After a big war, there was a treaty between humans and demons allowing them to coexist, but life amongst demons is no picnic. Seeing all that humans were faced with, God gave the Pope superpowers and charged him with the task of protecting the humans left on Earth--keeping them safe, and he sent along his only son, Jesus H. Christ to act as a sidekick.”

Jesus, it should be noted, spends most of his time playing video games and eating hot dogs.

Nevertheless, Kirkman said, most people have had a good sense of humor about the original comics and new animation. “A lot of people seem to think that extremely religious people don't have a sense of humor--and that's just not the case,” he said. “I do portray Jesus as being very naive, but that's just a take on how he was portrayed to me in Sunday school: unconditional love, helping your enemies, turn the other cheek. That sounds to me like a naive guy who could be taken advantage of. Once people actually read the book and see that it's not a malicious attack on religion, and rather, just a satire with cool superhero-type action, they don't seem to pissed. I've barely gotten five hate letters since I started 'Battle Pope.’”

Val Staples, who colored the Image “Battle Pope” series, played an important role in the creation of the animated series. “Val Staples was pals with Tom Akel, who aside from being a fan of 'Battle Pope,’ managed the web content at Comedy Central before eventually coming to work for Spike TV,” Kirkman explained. “Tom liked the product and got in touch with me through Val. We spoke briefly about the project and then my manager was brought in to seal the deal--it was really the easiest thing I've done in Hollywood. Tom's been a real treat to work with.”

The first season of “Battle Pope” runs eight episodes, all of which are now available on Spike TV’s web site. “I'm told it's doing really well, so it's possible that we may be coming back to do some more eventually,” Kirkman said. “Together the eight webisodes form one 22-minute pilot episode. So I've got my fingers crossed that we'll get an on-air broadcast.”

“Battle Pope” will also be available on Verizon VCast phones in the near future.

Of course, Kirkman fans must know, with 265 pontiffs to choose from, plus his own creation, who is the writer’s favorite pope? “I'm sure there's at least a dozen badass ninja popes who rode black horses and beheaded people in battle, but I'm not going to look those guys up,” Kirkman said. “I think people don't seem to realize that the Pope wasn't always some old man who only sat in chairs. I think the current Pope Benedict Palpatine is okay. I don't know--I'm not Catholic so the real Pope to me is just a guy in a funny hat, who, frankly, doesn't wear that funny hat enough for my tastes.”

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