As a child growing up in the Caribbean, Ambrose Jozefzoon was fascinated by comic books — they captured his imagination by combining stories with artwork. He even remembers vivid introductions to some Catholic saints via comic books.
“When I was young, my parents gave me and my siblings comics about the saints, including a Marvel-like comic of Pope Saint John Paul II,” he recalled. Many of these saints became his friends — “They are our role models,” he said — but he soon noticed a striking gap: Where were all the stories of the Black saints?
“Lots of saints who are depicted as white in Europe were technically not white at all,” Ambrose said. At the same time, he realized that “there are also a lot of Black saints still unknown to many.”
This was a critical question for Ambrose, a Black man himself: “If you can take an example from someone who looks like you, that really helps,” he explained.
That left him wondering when he would find a comic book about Black saints. After all, “Marvel already had a Black superhero since the 1960s in Black Panther. But the comics about Black saints never came.”
Struck with this gap, and bolstered by his own studies of art, the 30-year-old artist decided to take matters into his own hands. This is the origin story for Black Saints Matter, Ambrose’s first solo project. The two-volume graphic novel will tell the stories of approximately 50 Black saints from the Catholic church.
Saint Kaloli (Charles) Lwanga (1860-1886) #uganda🇺🇬 #hero #blackhero #blacksuperhero #black #blackandbeautiful #blacksaints #blackcatholics #blackcatholicsaints #blacksaintsmatter #graphicnovel #art #comicart #blackart #blackandwhite #catholicchurch #catholic #catholicism #saint pic.twitter.com/pFbKs9crDW— Black Saints Matter (@BlackSaintsM) September 15, 2021
Ambrose hopes to “tell all the amazing stories about Black saints who are still in the shadows, and those who haven’t yet been canonized or beatified yet, but are on the nominations list.” He hopes to help them “get the attention and the honor they deserve,” while offering the kind of inspiration he was looking for when he was a child.
The decision to move forward with the project was a difficult one; Ambrose was not sure if the time would be right, or how the concept would be received. A friend helped him think this through, saying, “Many won’t understand, but the times are changing — now is the time to try.”
Though the graphic novel is still in progress, Ambrose shares portraits of the saints on social media as he draws them (though his popular Instagram account remains suspended for unknown reasons). Major Catholic influencer accounts have taken note. “The response on social media shows me that now is indeed the right time to do this,” he said.
As he embarks on this creative work, Ambrose is nervous but excited. “It excites me that I’m able to contribute to something important, a project that will bring others closer to heaven,” he said.
Ambrose has an autism diagnosis, which means he’d rather draw attention to the saints through his artwork, rather than to himself. “I like to focus on the saints,” he said, “whose stories speak for themselves.”
#Venerable Zeinab Alif (Sister Maria Giuseppina Benvenuti) (1845-1925) #sudan #black #blackandbeautiful #blacksaints #blackcatholics #blackcatholicsaints #blacksaintsmatter #graphicnovel #art #comicart #blackart #catholicchurch #catholic #catholicism #saint pic.twitter.com/rXKZcWxeNr— Black Saints Matter (@BlackSaintsM) September 5, 2021
In addition to his work elevating the saints, he hopes the new attention on his project will help people understand the autism spectrum, too. “I always ask for awareness that things like public appearances can be difficult for people on the spectrum,” he said. “I’m glad I can do this work in the background, while it draws me closer to the saints.”
Ambrose doesn’t know what will come next as he puts together the graphic novel: he has received requests for prayer cards and pre-orders, and he is hopeful that the project will get the chance to grow bigger than the graphic novel alone — and that it inspires a better understanding of the diversity that makes Catholicism what it is.
And most importantly, he hopes these saints inspire other people’s faith — like they have for his.
“This project was born from faith, but it also deepens my faith by the great and inspiring examples I discover along the way,” he said. “We can see what discrimination did to Black saints, but we can also see how they responded with the courage to oppose hate with love.”