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Christian Comics Pioneers
Phil Saint
the Rev. Phil Saint (USA / Argentina)

One of eight children, Phil Saint was born in 1912 in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. His father Lawrence was one of the foremost stained glass artists of his day, and a devout Christian. "We had a family altar, with Bible readings and prayer every day," Phil remembered. "This daily time of meeting with God remained a spiritual bulwark for every one of us. To this day I cannot recall the specific moment when I was converted, but by the time I was five years old I knew that I loved Jesus and that He truly saved me."

During his high school years Phil was stirred by the preaching of visiting evangelists and responded to an altar call: "God was shaking the very depths of my soul. Blinded by hot tears and not caring what anybody else said or did, I somehow reached the aisle. At the altar rail I dropped to my knees and sobbed, 'Lord, if You'll keep me busy, I'll serve You till I die!'" And indeed He kept Phil busy from that day till his last earthly breath.

Phil always liked to draw. He had learned the fundamentals of art from his father, but one day discovered that he was partly color-blind. Regardless, he began doing 'chalk talks' at Bible conferences, sharing the Gospel while he drew various Bible illustrations in colored chalks. He was able to distinguish the colors by their placement in the tray, but sometimes the chalk would get mixed up, and a man's face would be green, or a tree blue, but these mishaps were infrequent.

After high school he worked as a "guy Friday" for Herbert Johnson, a famed cartoonist for The Saturday Evening Post. Phil learned much from this man, even having one of his own cartoons published in the magazine in the 1930s, but after six months his job came to a sudden end "when I broke my right arm cranking my rusty old Model-T. I took the injury as a sign from the Lord. I was certain, by now, of God's plan for my life: to draw souls to Christ through chalk art."

He began travelling hundreds of miles, crisscrossing the east coast of the United States. "Eventually," Phil said, "I found myself running out of preaching material. In plain fact, I needed more education, and I knew it." In 1937 he enrolled in Wheaton College in Illinois. In his senior year Phil met and fell in love with Ruth Brooker. After graduating in 1941, they were wed in the College Church. During this time he drew "Gary" (shown at left) which, according to a 22 November, 1941 advertisement in The Sunday School Times, was "the world's first Christian story strip." He followed this with the publication of two illustrated books: Two Mighty Men (1942) and Drawing Men to Christ (1943).

Once the United States entered the Second World War, Phil Saint ministered with the Pocket Testament League on military bases, leading many servicemen to Christ with his chalk talks. He also ministered in churches and at summer youth camps. After the war, the door was wide open for the Gospel in Japan. General Douglas MacArthur had called for one thousand missionaries, and Japanese response was already assured. Leaving his wife and children stateside, Phil went there for three and a half months, followed by a six month trip. With scant funds and food, often sleeping in a truck, and in occasional sickness, Phil, with a translator and other ministry workers, preached and drew for huge crowds, among whom many souls were saved.

His next assignment was in the Caribbean, and he would make two chalk talk tours through the Windward Islands, Jamaica, Trinidad, and other islands. "Three months of meetings brought a total attendance of 350,000, with about 3,000 professions of faith. Many of them were unforgettable," Phil said. He returned to the U.S. to minister in many successful church campaigns, youth rallies, and Bible conferences, always carting around and setting up his large easel, where in every meeting he would draw several cartoon sketches as well as a main picture.

In 1954 he wrote and illustrated two children's books for Scripture Press in Wheaton, IL: Jackie Meets Leo (shown at right) and Jackie and Leo Rescue a Miner. Over a period of several years he operated a ministry under the imprint of Gospel Art out of Greensboro, North Carolina where he produced slide sets, prints of his pictures, and flash cards (prepared with Bill Lent and Al Painter) which were widely distributed.

Then in 1955 Phil received an invitation from Latin America Mission to go to Argentina and Uruguay as a guest artist. While in Cordoba, Argentina "God called me to live in that city, making it my permanent base of operations on the mission field." He had studied Spanish for two years while at Wheaton College, but he and his wife sold their home in Greensboro, NC and packed up their children and belongings, going to a language school in San Jose, Costa Rica first.

In January, 1956, while at the language school, Phil Saint received word that his brother Nate, along with Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and Ed McCully, had been martyred in Ecuador by the Aucas, a previously unknown 'stone age' tribe.

This world-famous tragedy was recounted in Elisabeth Elliot's Through Gates of Splendour, and millions marvelled to learn that she, her daughter Valeri, and Phil Saint's sister Rachel would enter the tribe to minister the Gospel to those who had murdered Elisabeth's husband and Rachel's brother.

The Saints arrived in Argentina in March, 1957, where Phil began holding large scale campaigns all over that country, as well as in the neighboring countries of Chile, Peru, and Paraguay. At this time the Lord took home their eldest child, Ruth Ellyn, who had been suffering from cystic fibrosis for seventeen years.

In 1959 Scripture Press in Wheaton, IL released two children's books for flash card use: Mice and Men and Sammy Scales, which were spin-offs of his chalk talk work.

Despite his limited color vision, Phil made a number of oil paintings based on his chalk pictures. His most enduring image, "The Way of the Cross" (shown at left), was initially done in 1943 with several other versions painted later (the above image is from 1966). Inspired in part by an E. J. Pace cartoon of a cross bridging a chasm which he had seen in his childhood, well over 50,000 prints of this memorable scene have been sold.

In 1967 Phil Saint's dream of establishing a conference centre in Argentina came true, located in the hills of Cordoba. Everyone who came was able to see him draw and speak. It was that same year that Phil went through "a great theological earthquake." He wrote, "To be sure, God had challenged Christians through my ministry. He had blessed my preaching of His Word. He had used it to save souls. Yet while certain aspects of my work for Him showed divine strength and grace, others were woefully lacking." Phil came to understand the difference between the indwelling of the Spirit and His infilling, and that year he received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Support from former friends who thought he had departed from dispensational truth was cut off, but God opened other doors of support to sustain his ministry.

In 1972 Logos International published Amazing Saints which recounted highlights of Phil's life and ministry up to that time, with a shortened Spanish version, Cataclismo, published in 1974. From his headquarters in Cordoba, Argentina Phil continued to travel for campaigns, using a huge tent. Inhibitions against the "evangelicals" were broken down as people of all walks of life came to see the beautiful chalk pictures developed before their very eyes while special music was played. The lights were dimmed as the artist worked and were left dim while the artist wiped the chalk from his hands and began to preach from the Word of God. In city after city hundreds came forward to make their decision to follow Christ.

The 1980s were Phil Saint's most prolific time of book publishing. In 1981 he released his first volume of cartoons called Biblical Cartoons from Daily Life with a mini-message with each cartoon. Gaylord Dubois, a Christian who was a prolific writer of comic books in the 'Golden Age', worked with him on the project. Phil's facile, beautifully characterized drawings had many elements in common with noted secular cartoonist Will Eisner. 1983 saw the publication of the Spanish version of Mice and Men, Ratoncito Raul, and in 1985, Seventy Biblical Cartoons and Fossils That Speak Out (shown at right), a creation science book that exposes the fallacy of many evolutionary theories.

In 1986 Saints Alive!, a new edition of Amazing Saints but with an abundance of new illustrations and cover art, was published, along with El Plan Profetico de Dios (The Prophetic Plan of God), and in 1988, Guerra Contra el Infierno (War Against Hell), and Fósiles Oue Hablan (the Spanish version of Fossils). A posthumous reprint of Fossils That Speak Out was released in 1993.

Phil's final painting, "Vision of Palm Beach" (seen below), was of the martyrdom of his brother and the other missionaries by the Aucas (Waodani) by the Curaray River in Ecuador. In the foreground are troubled Aucas who had suspected by then that something terribly wrong was being done. They later recounted that above the trees that loomed over the grisly scene was a heavenly vision of a multitude clad in white, singing. The Aucas could not deny the reality of the scene, but did not understand its significance until after the Gospel had been explained to them and they had come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Phil had said, "If it's the last thing I do, I need to paint the 'Vision of Palm Beach'," and it was the last thing he did. The only thing lacking was his signature on the painting, which now hangs in the Art Gallery of the 700 Club.

In February 1993 a tractor accident claimed the life of 80-year-old Phil Saint, who was still vigorous and healthy. He enjoyed using the huge tractor to level the road that led to the conference centre, despite protests from his family. Within two hours he was gone; he died 'with his boots on', as he wanted. He was always afraid that he would lose the ability to draw, but he was able to draw right to the end, and died with chalk dust under his nails and oil paint on his fingers.

Many thanks to Christian comics writer/artist/publisher Alec Stevens for supplying the text for Phil Saint's biography as well as all the accompanying scanned images.

Thanks also to Phil Saint's daughter, Martha Saint-Berberian, for all her invaluable corrections and additions.

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