YORBA LINDA, Calif. In a culture flooded with apocalyptic movies and novels, Phil Hotsenpiller and Rob Liefield found a new medium to enrapture audiences: a comic book.
The unlikely pair has published the first of what they plan will be a series of Armageddon graphic novels centered on the end times, and they're not even close to the book about the rapture, Liefield said. What was originally intended to be an eight-part series may now yield even more comics.
"There's no limit," said Liefield, a graphic novel artist who has sold millions of comics since working with DC Comics and later founded Image Comics.
"Phil and I are just taking our time and having fun," he said.
The idea for the Armageddon series began in 2007 when Liefield heard Hotsenpiller preaching at Yorba Linda Friends Church, Yorba Linda, Calif., a megachurch where Hotsenpiller is the teaching pastor. Expecting a low attendance Sundayas any pastor or pastor's kid would anticipate on Labor Day weekendHotsenpiller began a series focused on the end times.
"Labor Day is kind of one of those down weekends," Hotsenpiller said. "On a typical Sunday I'd expect about 3,000 people, but we ended up with 7,000. I thought, 'Wow, we've got something here.'"
Liefield, son of a Baptist minister, was skeptical about the weekend, too.
"I was thinking, prophecy conference, Labor Day? I was like, what are they thinking? Everyone's having their last summer blast," Liefield said. "But the overflow parking lot was packed. Phil's delivery and presentation on the material, Revelation and end time prophecies, really hit me. … My mind was just blown at the hunger and the curiosity for this stuff."
After seeing the interest in the apocalyptic that took a traditionally low-attendance Sunday to a full building, Liefield approached Hotsenpiller with the idea of creating a graphic novel.
"I was really happy to see the success of the Left Behind series … but it seemed so slow and not involving to me," Liefield said. "This stuff is just waiting to be depicted in a way that still no one has ever seen."
Opening the gates
The duo soon created 12 Gates Productions and published Armageddon Now: World War 3, complete with machine guns, explosions, monsters and characters that would inspire NFL linebackers to hit the weight room.
Though the graphic novel is based on Hotsenpiller's end-times theology, it is designed to appeal to everyone, regardless of religious beliefs.
"It's not overtly Christian, but would allow us to build a bridge into the world that is apart from the church and away from God," Hotsenpiller said. "We've got something that's compelling and draws some interest. It allows people to connect without feeling like they're reading a Christian comic book."
Hotsenpiller points to the recent deluge of apocalyptic media, ranging from end-of-the-world movies with natural disasters, pandemics and nuclear apocalypse to bookswhich eventually became moviessuch as Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," for which Hotsenpiller held discussion forums.
"The Road" is the story of a boy and his father struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.
"Everybody came out of ("The Road" movie) going, 'Wow I have taken everything for granted, what really matters in my life?'" Hotsenpiller said.
He felt Armageddon could also compel people to examine their lives, or at least serve as a way to start a conversation about the end times.
"That's key to my life, how to connect with unbelievers," the pastor said. "As Christians we're often too flippant. We think what difference does it make? But no one should be around in a time like that."
Though Hotsenpiller did not claim to know whether the apocalypse will be next year or in 1,000 years, "the prophetic clock is running really fast," he said.
The creators of Armageddon are not limiting themselves to print, and have begun working with movie producers to find a venue to turn their work into a major motion picture.
The graphic novel is also going digital, and will soon be available as an application, or "app," for iPhone and iPad users. Apps are software that can be downloaded on mobile devices and are specially programmed for iPhones, iPads or cell phones of other makes. The app will be created with Comixology, a company that makes comic books into apps, and will be available in April, Liefield said.
Though Armageddon is well timed with the culture's apparent apocalyptic interest, the comic book industry has not escaped the grip of hard economic times.
"I wish I could tell you it's sold a million copies," Liefield said. "It's selling well, but the market's tough for a $25 book. We've sold over 10,000 copies in the direct market."
The graphic novels have sold well enough for the team to keep working on the series, and Liefield, who called Armageddon a "passion project," is particularly excited to get to the parts with the creatures described in the apocalyptic literature of the Bible.
"We just got started," Liefield said. "We were so hot and heavy to get to actual monsters, I said we've got to have a dream series where … our lead character is being visited by these visions.
"We have it right here in Scripture, there's monsters coming out of the ocean."
To see images from the graphic novel or learn more about the creators visit www.armageddonnow.net.