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From hand to heart

A Q&A with author and illustrator John Hendrix

From hand to heart

John Hendrix (Matt Marcinkowski)

Illustrator John Hendrix’s picture book Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus gathered rave reviews three years ago. This year, The Faithful Spy, an unabashedly Christian take on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, has attracted even more attention. Hendrix, a Presbyterian Church in America elder, has a secular publisher that has never made an issue of his spiritual themes. “Christians are a market, and my editor recognizes that,” he says.

Raised a Methodist in St. Louis, Hendrix dug deeper into his faith while studying at the University of Kansas. After a move to Manhattan to work in graphic design at The New York Times, he became involved with the metropolitan mission of Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church. When the opportunity arose to move back to his hometown and teach at Washington University, he didn’t hesitate. He lives there now with his wife Andrea and two children, Annie and Jack.

How long have you been interested in Bonhoeffer? Since college—that’s when I read Life Together, and The Cost of Discipleship a few years later.

What kind of research did you do? I spent a year just reading about him, particularly the four major biographies. I also went to Germany and visited his house, along with several Third Reich sites and the place along the Czech border where he was executed. There’s a memorial there—a pile of ash. His body is in there somewhere. My most helpful resource turned out to be Bonhoeffer’s letters. I saw many of the actual letters in Berlin.

With all the research and artwork involved, it must have taken a while to produce this book. Five years.

Is the text really hand-lettered? I hired a guy to create a font based on my hand-printing. That really helps with translations!

What about the word art? Do you have to create that in other languages? No. I revised the cover myself for the French edition, but someone else is doing the interior word art.

The Faithful Spy is a moving biography but also an excellent overview of World War II in Europe. Thanks; other people have told me that. My intention was just to focus on Bonhoeffer, but it ended up being almost a dual biography of Bonhoeffer and Adolf Hitler. I was fascinated by just how opposite they were.

Does teaching cut into your “creative” time, or enrich it? Some of both. It does take time, but an artist needs to be around people. And a steady income allows me time to focus on the projects I really want to do, instead of taking any illustration job that comes along.

What do you see as the greatest challenge for a Christian in the “art world”? First, to make excellent art. Christian artists also have to see through the lens of culture. Some topics and some approaches just won’t track with the public. For instance, I presented Miracle Man as kind of a folk tale or legend.

But in the afterword, you clearly stated you were a follower of Jesus. Right.

What’s next? A follow-up to Miracle Man, called Go and Do Likewise: The Parables and Wisdom of Jesus. Due from Abrams in 2020.

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.