The year was 1995… I was working at Comics Route in Manchester, Vermont when I first met Chris Kulig. Little did I know at the time, that this interesting man who road into town on a bicycle, asking to be photographed next to my display for Teri Wood’s self-published Wandering Star, would remain a constant in my life for the next 16 years. Chris made his purchase that day, and inquired about mail order options before continuing his travels across the green mountains of Vermont. You see Chris was enjoying his first summer off from the Seminary, and his travels had landed him in my comics shop, and every month since that day in ’95, I’ve been selling Chris his comics. Although he’s not just Chris anymore, now he’s Fr. Christopher Kulig, O.Carm. of the St. Joseph/Immaculate Conception Rectory. That’s right folks, a comic book reading Roman Catholic Priest! And not only does he read comics, but at my request, he wrote a little something about them too. Here’s an excerpt…
Meet Joe Priest
It was 15 years ago or so that I found myself in a comic book store in north Jersey, browsing through the various titles. I came upon a most intriguing graphic novella: Meet Joe Priest. If I recall correctly, it had both a priest in roman collar and a Hell’s Angel character on the cover, replete with motorcycle, of course. Hmmm, I thought, I did have a few extra dollars in my allowance, so what the hell–I bought it. The story was fairly kitschy: in a future time of dictatorship, when human birth had been usurped by genetic engineering done in the laboratory, a renegade priest runs rampant with his motorcycle bodyguard, “confessing” every nubile young lady in town (“confessing” being code word for impregnating, if you hadn’t inferred) as a way of subverting the evil regime of his time. Oh, brother, was it worth the five bucks?
I had to laugh, though, since this was nothing like priesthood or sacramental confession. How might I know? Well, I have a confession to make: I am a Roman Catholic priest, going on ten years, now. It was in the seminary that I picked up the aforementioned title (really, how many grown men have an “allowance,” save “priests-in-training for poverty, chastity and obedience—or very henpecked husbands!). But my interest in the art form of comics went back just a little bit earlier, to the late 80s. My college roommate at West Virginia was somewhat of an avid collector, back in the day when the Batman: The Dark Knight Returns series was a hot seller. However, my potential interest in comic books was quickly squelched when my roomie wouldn’t let me read that four-part series, lest I ruin its re-sale value (NB: Another dorm-rat college buddy wouldn’t even let me read the ensuing compilation book, since its bluebook value was increasing, too!).
Suffice to say, my interest was put off for a few years. If these books had become like ancient manuscripts, “sacred texts,” forbidden from my purview, then why bother?
Then I took a road-trip with Tony, the sole representative of the WVU fencing club, for the NCAA fencing tournament in Orlando in 1989. For the journey, Tony had brought his Cerebus Phone Books, both High Society and Church and State I & II. I can still recall, with great glee, the hilarity I found in the opening pages of High Society, where this new hero for our ages—Cerebus the Aardvark—was itching to pick a fight with anyone, and was foiled at every turn. I was enthralled.
I would soon begin collecting Cerebus and eventually go on a quest to find first printings of each issue. It probably did not help my relationship with my last girlfriend at the time (“You just had to make me drive you to every comic store in the area in search of ‘another Cerebus comic book’!” echoes her perturbed voice in old section of my romantic memory); but I grew to appreciate the different stores I visited in my travels. Why call ahead and ask, “Do you have any old Cerebus?” when you can go into the store and see what treasures were waiting to be found? Like Meet Joe Priest? Well, some stores had more hidden treasures than others (but, as kitschy as it was, I did like Joe Priest).
[Meet Joe Priest can be read in its entirety in Panel to Panel: Exploring Words & Pictures, which can be purchased at this website.]