New graphic novels feature Catholic exorcists battling demons for souls.
Washington, DC Newsroom, March 20, 2022 / 5:00 a.m. (CNA).
Father Patrick Retter kept his wits about him as he faced the giant red-eyed cobra that emerged from the possessed woman’s mouth.
“In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti”, he chanted the sign of the cross in Latin, while pushing a bottle of holy water towards the demon.
The woman bit his hand with her teeth, emitting a loud bite — but the priest went on. Clutching his wooden cross, he declared, “I cast you out, you and every satanic specter — in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ! He is he who commands you.
Thus begins one of many action-packed scenes in the “Soulfinder” graphic novel series about a fictional “special force of exorcists” within the Catholic Church.
“‘Soulfinder’ is about a major order of combat veteran exorcists who are recruited to engage in spiritual warfare with a demon called Blackfire until the end of time,” said Douglas Ernst, the writer and creator of the series at NAC.
The 42-year-old writer started the series to fill a void in today’s comic book world – and in culture.
“The heroes I grew up reading with are often unrecognizable because the creators of Marvel and DC are activists posing as serious storytellers,” he explained. “I created ‘Soulfinder’ because I wanted to give people solid stories and artwork that also conveys something good and true and beautiful.”
With a team of artists – Timothy Lim, Brett R. Smith, Matthew Weldon and Dave Dorman, to name a few – Ernst brings to life characters who are dedicated to serving God after serving their country. They are applying their experience of combat in the physical world to combat now in the spiritual realm.
The series is already saving souls, both inside and outside its pages.
“I love it when someone writes to me and says that reading the books brought them back to the Catholic Church after moving away,” Ernst revealed. “Maybe they haven’t been to mass in years, but something in the stories has rekindled the flame of faith.”
Stories of Selfless Service
A Catholic veteran himself, Ernst shares something in common with his protagonists. He served as a mechanized infantryman in the 1990s, before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He saw many of his friends go to war and never come back.
Ernst brings this context to his books, which follow the adventures of Retter (an Iraq/Afghanistan War veteran), Father Reginald Crane (a Vietnam veteran), and Detective Gregory Chua.
“I hope I did well with the military community,” he said. “Selfless service and a willingness to lay down your life for another is a crucial part of the show.”
Ernst, who previously worked as a journalist in Washington, DC, now divides his time between Reno, Nevada, and Missoula, Montana while focusing on his graphic novels.
His first two – “Soulfinder: Demon’s Match” and “Soulfinder: Black Tide” – greet readers with bright color and rich Catholic symbolism. The second book, available in hardcover, shimmers with gold pages — and even a glow-in-the-dark monster.
There is a dramatic reality at the heart of these works of fiction. The series depicts Catholic priests not only as brave heroes, but also as flawed human beings – men who may fall, but who always rise again, driven by a desire to do the right thing. Along the way, their personalities (and sense of humor) shine through the narrative.
Available through ICONIC Comics, the first two volumes also appear on Amazon Kindle. In January, the two ranked No. 1 on Amazon’s new releases list in “Religious Graphic Novels.”
Inspired by Catholic writers
Ernst – who learned to read by devouring the adventures of Spider-Man, Iron Man, Daredevil and Captain America as a child – began his series after encountering mainstream comic books filled with moral relativism.
“Where are the Catholic creators who will try to pick up where GK Chesterton and JRR Tolkien left off?” He asked. “It’s a daunting task, but culture will continue to drift in dangerous waters if Catholic writers and artists don’t enter as many creative places as possible.”
Ernst shared what he did to prepare the books, to ensure they were theologically sound.
Being a “cradle Catholic” helped, he admitted, in addition to consulting other Catholics, including a priest. His stories, he said, were inspired by the works of Saint Francis de Sales, Father Gabriele Amorth, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Catherine of Siena and others.
Ernst started the series after running a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign. He also credits his success to collaborating with talented artists and to Word on Fire, Bishop Robert Barron’s media ministry, which has featured his work in blogs and YouTube interviews.
A ‘PG-13’ notice
Teens and adults looking for classic stories with “good versus evil” seem to enjoy Soulfinder, Ernst said of its series, which he calls “PG-13.” Indeed, among other things, the series tackles a dark subject.
In his first book with artist Timothy Lim, also a practicing Catholic, a black mass scene features a naked woman.
“She’s naked, but there are shadows where there should be shadows,” Ernst pointed out the strategic shading on her body. “It’s also shown as a bad thing.”
Although the series is aimed at more mature readers, it offers content for Catholics and non-Catholics.
“Most Catholic characters in modern comics and in Hollywood tend to be a caricatured version of the Faith,” he said.
His streak, he pointed out, is different.
“It makes me incredibly happy when non-Catholic readers say these stories show a side of our faith that they have never encountered before.”
Third book on the way
Ernst told CNA that the third installment of the series is in production.
“‘Soulfinder: Infinite Ascent’ takes our heroes halfway around the world to apprehend a rogue member of the CIA who has evaded capture by supernatural means,” Ernst told CNA. “The United States government has been so impressed with Father Retter and his friends regarding their success in ‘Soulfinder: Black Tide’ that it falls upon them once again to clean up a worldwide network of occultists.”
Although there is no official release date yet, Ernst expects the book to be colored and lettered in March. From there it will be sent to the printer.
“The story, at its core, focuses on the loss of loved ones, grief and the need for forgiveness,” Ernst hinted. “The key to saving the day lies in a character’s ability to forgive others for their trespasses against him.”
The volume will include a bonus story, “Soulfinder: War Cry,” which takes place in Arlington Cemetery.
Ultimately, Ernst hopes these books will bring him and his readers closer to heaven.
“I know that one day I will stand before my Creator and I will have to give an account of what I have done with the talents I have been given,” he said. “I hope my creative team did their small part to save souls while entertaining readers.”