Mike Morgan refers to his nearly 30-year career as author and illustrator of the “For Heaven’s Sake!” comic strip as his “advocation to go with vocation” as senior pastor at Gainesville First United Methodist Church.
The comic strip focuses on the lives of congregants at the fictional Mainline Memorial Church. Morgan incorporates humor, puns, current events, and of course, his own experiences as a pastor, into each strip.
“Church life, really, is a constant source of ideas, because the church is made up of people and people are funny,” said Morgan. “And church people, I think, are funnier than most!”
Morgan’s “For Heaven’s Sake!” was first published in the Faith and Values section of The Macon Telegraph in 1991. It now posts weekly on Los Angeles-based Creators Syndicate and circulates in newspapers throughout the United States.
Each week, characters such as Reverend Righteous, the no-nonsense pastor of Mainline Memorial, and Hal A. Leujah, Righteous’s more easy-going associate pastor, make readers smile, laugh and possibly even reconsider their assumptions.
“We people of faith have a sense of humor, that’s what I’m going for,” said Morgan. “To make the life of faith seem like a welcoming and fun endeavour for people to be a part of.”
While each of the characters from “For Heaven’s Sake!” are purely fictional, Morgan said he is often inspired by the comical attitudes and conversations of people within the church.
“It starts with a germ of an idea that I think is funny or could be developed into something funny…I scribble that down, sometimes with words and sometimes with a sketch and stick it in my pocket and throw it in my idea box,” said Morgan.
Morgan keeps each scrap of paper in a large shoe box, his idea box, to be used for a future comic strip. He said that storing away these ideas for a later date helps prevent members of his congregation from thinking they are the ones who inspired certain characters.
But for the most part, his comic has been well received each week with few to no complaints. In some cases, he even hears from other Methodist pastors around the country who express their appreciation for the piece.
“I realize that I have the opportunity to communicate with people that I’ll never meet and that live in different places,” said Morgan. “Sometimes I hear from them, most of the time I don’t, but it’s kinda fun knowing that different eyes will see my work.”
Morgan said his process for writing a new strip starts with either referencing his idea box or using a current event for fresh inspiration. Once he has a topic, Morgan decides which characters will appear and how many panels he needs to make the story progress within the strip.
Morgan uses a special sketching paper to draw each strip, then traces it onto a larger Strathmore Bristol Board by laying both on a light board. Once Morgan finishes the actual drawing, he starts lettering in the dialogue of the characters and darkening everything in with ink.
While the process up to this point takes a lot of time and effort, Morgan said that he is never afraid to make changes where needed.
“I’m never afraid to erase pencil marks and I’m never afraid to Wite-Out ink marks if it doesn’t look exactly how I want it to,” said Morgan.
Once the whole strip is complete and meets Morgan’s expectations, he scans it and sends it to Creators Syndicate for publication and distribution.
“I work large, usually at least twice the size it appears in the newspaper and that way when it’s reduced down to appear in the paper all the lines are sharp and clean and clear,” Morgan added.
His work on “For Heaven’s Sake!” is a far cry from where he started, first in the art advertising department for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and then as an editorial cartoonist for The Macon Telegraph. Morgan said that at that time in his life, he enjoyed illustrating the political cartoons on the editorial page.
“That’s one job where you get paid to make people mad…I thought I could change the world with my political viewpoints,” Morgan said, chuckling. “Then I got a call to the ministry and left my cartooning and art career and went back to school to become a Methodist minister.”
Morgan was back in Macon working as an associate pastor at a Methodist church when the editor of The Macon Telegraph at the time approached him with an offer to contribute cartoons as a freelancer.
“And I started thinking about that, now I’m a pastor and I don’t enjoy making people mad as much and I can just foresee some of my political cartoons making people mad at their pastor,” said Morgan. “I decided that I’d come up with an alternative idea and my world at that time had become the church and church people and the faith and I thought, ‘Well, why not draw a comic strip about the church?’ so that’s how my comic strip ‘For Heaven’s Sake!’ was born.”
Morgan said that he hasn’t won any awards for his work, but isn’t actively seeking any, either.
“It’s not about the recognition, it’s mainly about touching people’s hearts and their funny bones and their minds, and making them laugh,” he said.
Readers can view “For Heaven’s Sake!” online by following the link here to Creators Syndicate.