Area pastor's comic strip reaches international audience

Nov. 29, 2013 @ 10:32 AM

David Ayers, a longtime pastor in the community who's currently serving as the shepherd of Richardson's Cove Baptist Church, is like many ministers in the area. A kind man with a quick smile and firm handshake, his strong faith and charisma shine through the moment you meet him.

But Ayers has a little surprise — something you might not know until you delve into a conversation on hobbies or see his office, just off the main part of his house.

Rev. David Ayers is also a cartoonist.

"I was doodling before I was actually writing my name," Ayers said earlier this week. "It was just one of those things. I just started drawing and doodling. The next thing you know, I started on Charlie Brown characters and all that kind of stuff."

Ayers said he was a quick fan of Charles Shultz's "Peanuts" characters, as well as the matter-of-fact style of the artist's writing.

But it wasn't until Ayers was already pastoring that he found a second true calling.

"I'd already been in the ministry for a few years — I was pastor of Roaring Fork Baptist Church up in Gatlinburg— and I was there in the parsonage. I was looking at my two boys. My oldest son, Aaron, was 12 at the time, and my youngest son, John David, was 5. And I said, 'You know, Lord, I'd love to able to use this passion (for art) you've given me for ministry, what can I do?'

"I'd dabbled in charcoal, acrylics, watercolor (and) oil base. I've done a little bit of everything — even painted on saw blades," Ayers said. "But I never really found the fulfillment of, 'Hey, I enjoy this.'"

The answer came quickly.

"It was like (God) hit me in the back of the head and said, 'There you go. You've got two boys, you've got all kinds of crazy things going on (use it to minister).'"

Ayers drew from his love of the "Peanuts" comic and the way it occasionally dealt with the spiritual side of life.

"I think Charles Shultz kind of gave a great example of how to deal with church life and how to deal with issues," he said. "He would always let Linus be the minister in the group. Linus would always bring the Bible in or a passage of scripture.

"A lot of times he would just say something without really answering the question or really getting on a soapbox. He would present scripture that would make you have to think about what does the word of God say in this situation. And I love how he approached it in that way. That's kind of what I would aspire to do.

"So I took the likeness of my boys and put them in a comic strip," Ayers said. "And I started putting it in the newsletter of the church."

From there, things got into the express lane.

A reporter from The Mountain Press heard of the little comic — dubbed "P.K. Preacher's Kids." It wasn't long after a story was published on Ayers that the Baptist Press contacted him about carrying the strip on a regular basis.

"I've been with them for 10 years now," Ayers said. "I shoot them a strip every week, and it's kind of international. It goes to all the churches and they can use it freely in newsletters, bulletins, whatever."

Ayers' "Preacher's Kids" strips have been used far and wide — from those bulletins and newsletters to internationally in all manner of media.

"(It's in) a textbook in Brazil — it's the most random stuff," Ayers said. "It's trying to teach English and literacy. I don't really know what all the book contains, but it's a big, thick textbook. They wanted to use one of the comic strips because of the conversation and dialog that took place in the comic strip."

Ayers can rattle off the counties his strip's appeared with relative ease. From table cards in the United Kingdom and tracts in Pakistan to magazines and newsletters in Canada, India, Jamaica, Australia, Scotland and the Bahamas, "Preacher's Kids" has been everywhere.

"(And) the funny thing about all that is, I've not made a dime off of any of it," he said with a hearty, sincere laugh. "It's a good thing I'm not in it for the money, because the money's not there. It's ministry to me. I'm going to draw whether somebody paid me or not. God just gave me an opportunity to use it for ministry."

While Ayers grants permission to almost anyone who asks to use his comic without charge, he does receive a small honorarium from the Baptist Press — but that's simply turned around to further his craft.

He recently began producing the strip digitally through a Wacom digital pen and drawing tablet, which greatly expedites the process by taking out the old pen and ink on paper medium.

Though Ayers' boys are now 24 and 18 — Aaron is a radiation therapist at UT Hospital in Knoxville and John David's a senior at Gatlinburg-Pittman — Ayers still has no shortage of ideas for his weekly drawings.

"As my kids were growing up, everything came from them," he said. "My kids were hilarious when they were growing up —much like everybody's kids are. But I think I was intentionally looking for those things.  Now, typically, I'm looking at church life or kids at our own church," the pastor, who's Richardson's Cove church has seen significant growth recently, said. "I have family and friends that are always shooting me a line — 'You'll never guess what our kid did…'"

Ayers comic strip can be read weekly in The Mountain Press publication Good News, as well as once weekly in the newspaper. It can also be accessed through the Baptist Press at bpnews.net.