Why comics and comic books are important today!

COMICS ARE BOOMING! DC Comics is so confident about the future of super heroes that the publishing house has completely redesigned and relaunched 52 of its comic book series as THE NEW 52. (Click on the image above to visit an Amazon page for a one-volume collection containing all of the New 52 debut issues.)

Comics Are Booming

COMICS are a global sensation these days.
The easiest way to see their popularity is to check the current list of Top 20 U.S. Movies of All Time (a ranking of U.S. feature films based on total boxoffice revenues). Numbers 1 and 2 on the list are the fantasy film Avatar and then Titanic. But 9 of the Top 20 films are comic book or cartoon movies, including Batman, Spider-man, the Lion King and Shrek. The rest of the Top 20 list is dominated by fantasies, including Harry Potter, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings—all of which owe a huge debt to the past century of comics.

In a global media marketplace, comics speak an international language, says independent comic creator Kurt Kolka: “As humans, we need the spark of adventure in our lives. Wherever we live around the world, we share a hope that we can explore and find some meaning in our lives. As we live and grow, we all face challenges we have to conquer, and I’m not talking about physical conquests. We face many kinds of challenges in life. Comic stories from the adventures of Tin Tin to the most powerful super heroes are invitations to explore the world and to conquer both our limitations and our fears. That’s why comics continue to be so popular and why they have crossed over so successfully into movies.”

WHO IS KURT KOLKA? For more than two decades, he has been an independent comic artist and author—and he has been especially important in helping to connect with independent comic artists who highlight spiritual values in their work. Kurt is Christian and has worked with the many other independent producers of Christian comics to raise awareness of their work. More broadly, he is a full-time newspaper journalist at the Gaylord Herald Times in northern Michigan. Like the journalists who founded readthespirit.com six years ago, Kurt’s comics reflects common religious values shared by all major faiths—like compassion for the poor and vulnerable. Kurt also is a nationally known advocate for preserving classic newspaper comics.

Since 1990, Kurt Kolka’s super hero has been The Cardinal, an 18-year-old college student named Rich Benton who has been given the super power of flight and a talent for acrobatic martial arts. Although the Cardinal is a super hero, able to cruise through the air at will—Kurt did not make him super-strong nor is the Cardinal impervious to injury. These are choices Kurt made so that Rich Benton, as the Cardinal, must wrestle with his human fears and spiritual values on a daily basis like the rest of us. Kurt Kolka’s current Cardinal story is a suspenseful tale about a strange serial killer who is attacking poor women and is baffling local police. The first 15 weekly pages already are posted at Go Comics: Here is Part 1 in the tale. In November, as this story unfolded, Kurt used this Cardinal page to highlight national Homelessness Awareness Week. The gripping story continues this month. (If you start at Part 1 of the saga, arrows in the upper-right corner move readers through the parts).


COMING IN 2013: Stay tuned for an unprecedented comic event in 2013 as Kurt Kolka is organizing dozens of the nation’s top comic creators to produce a collection of short stories about overcoming the problem of bullying faced by millions of young people. The book opens with an entire, full-color Cardinal adventure—then showcases many of your comic favorites in short “story starters,” comic strips and comic panels that will get kids talking about the everday challenges they see with bullying.

This new comic book is aimed at young readers, parents, educators and community leaders—everyone who enjoys a great comic tale and who wants to reduce bullying. It follows the success of our 2012 book, produced with the Michigan State University School of Journalism, called The New Bullying. That 2012 book explains the current problem of bullying to adult readers. In spring 2013, the new comic book will be a perfect choice for young readers, classes and small groups. (Want to be on a list of people we alert as soon as the comic is released? Email us at [email protected])

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Where to find DC’s first Muslim Green Lantern hero

If you know a Muslim family, ask the kids about the new superhero in the DC Comics universe. Frankly, ask any comic fan about this. Given the Green Lantern’s legions of followers over the superhero’s 70-year history—millions of Americans have heard of the new hero: He’s Simon Baz, the newest Green Lantern, an Arab-American Muslilm hero from Dearborn, Michigan.

Who is Green Lantern
and What’s His Origin?

AMONG THE OLDEST AND MOST COURAGEOUS: From his debut in 1940, Green Lantern now ranks as one of the oldest and most popular super heroes—even if the 2011 Green Lantern movie wasn’t greeted with the same kind of rave reviews lavished on Batman, Spiderman and Avengers movies.

GROUNDBREAKING SOCIAL CONSCIENCE: His reputation for having a larger-than-life conscience is longstanding. Back in the late 1960s, a restless, young generation of artists and writers emerged at DC Comics and chose the Green Lantern as one of their standard bearers. Through most of the 1960s, mainstream comic books had avoided dealing with serious social ills. Then, in 1970 and 1971, DC dared to put issues like drug addiction and racism on the covers of superhero comic books. It was a salute to the brave and venerable reputation of Green Latern that he was chosen to co-star in that series with another old-school hero, Green Arrow. Just this summer, DC released a full-color volume of the Green Lantern and Green Arrow series from 1970-71, which now is available from Amazon.

FROM WORLD PEACE TO COSMIC PEACE: Most Americans know a good deal about Superman, Batman and Spiderman—individual heroes trying to do the right thing. Green Lantern is different. Think of the knights in King Arthur’s round table. Think of the Jedi Knights in the Star Wars saga. The origin of his power resides with a cosmic round table, the Guardians of the Universe. These Guardians have distributed many power rings through the universe to all shapes and sizes and genders of heroes. The most famous “current” Green Lantern is American test pilot Hal Jordan who received his ring as shown in the 2011 movie—and suddenly found himself a cosmic peacemaker. Of course, in the realm of superheroes, peacemaking involves more battles than quiet negotiations. Think of the Seven Samurai from Japan or the Magnificent Seven from Hollywood Westerns—battling to restore peace, or so their stories go.

How Did a Muslim Get a Green Lantern Ring?

Now, we’re in the heart of the story unfolding in the latest DC Comics.

The re-launch of the entire Green Lantern saga occurred in 2011, when DC Comics re-started all of the longstanding superhero series. You can catch up on the latest storyline through Green Lantern Vol. 1, containing the first half year of the new Green Lantern comics in a single volume from DC and carried by Amazon. By this summer, it was becoming clear that at least a couple of green lantern rings—the official connection with the Guardian-authorized power—were likely to be on the loose. By early next year, the entire first year of individual Green Lantern comic books will be available in book-length collections. For now, though, the debut of Simon Baz is only available in Green Lantern #0 “The Introduction and Origin of a Surprising New Green Lantern!” That individual comic book is available through Amazon resellers and at comic stores, if they’re not already sold out. Some Amazon resellers already have their prices jacked up by more than three times the original $2.99 cover price. This is sure to become a classic.

Detroit Free Press staff writer Julie Hinds has published some of the best coverage of this landmark in Muslim media representations. In her first story about Simon Baz as Green Lantern, Julie accurately pointed out that there have been other Muslim and Arab characters in superhero comic books. In fact, some years ago, a team of Muslim comic creators launched The 99, an elaborate multi-media universe of male and female super heroes representing the best values in Islam. (Here’s a ReadTheSpirit story on a documentary film about The 99 that’s fascinating viewing for anyone who cares about these issues.)

In her second story, Julie covered DC executive Geoff Johns’ visit to metro-Detroit, where he was celebrated by Dearborn Arab and Muslim families. Julie wrote in part: Now based in Los Angeles, Johns grew up in Grosse Pointe and Clarkston and graduated from Michigan State University. To make sure he got all of the details of Baz’s heritage and hometown right, he consulted on the script with the museum in Dearborn. “He did his research,” said Matthew Stiffler, the Arab American National Museum researcher who worked with Johns. “He came to the museum because he didn’t want to reinforce stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims. He’s really helping to break down stereotypes.”

Simon Baz is introduced to readers, beginning with a flashback to the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001. The comic then very quickly summarizes the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias that followed, even though the vast majority of Arab-Americans and Muslim Americans are deeply patriotic American citizens. Unfortunately, as a young man, this fictional Simon Baz gets caught up in an international web of investigations and—well, without spoiling the comic, it’s safe to say … he winds up with a green ring.

Our Recommendation: Sometimes interfaith peacemaking involves attending conferences and joint worship services; sometimes it takes long-term education and negotiation; and sometimes peacemaking is picking up some comic books and engaging kids in a fresh perspective on our world.

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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Review: Permanent Revolution shows power of prints

FRF Film on Protest Printmaking
Has Deep Religious Roots


Click the DVD cover to visit its Amazon page.“Has a work of art ever stopped a bullet?” we are asked in the opening scenes of the fascinating documentary Art is… The Permanent Revolution, newly released on DVD by FRF (First Fun Features). Then, printmaker Sigmund Abeles poses his question another way: “Guernica is an incredible painting but did it stop a single bullet? I’m not sure.” In fact, this thought-provoking film isn’t about the entire range of the fine arts as the title suggests. Manfred Kirchheimer’s documentary focuses specifically on the last 500 years of print making as protest. While that may sound like a very narrow topic, the 82-minute film branches off into religious and spiritual themes at every turn.


Were you in the crowds who flocked to see the Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus exhibition that has been touring the U.S. over the past year? The printmakers we meet in The Permanent Revolution open up new perspectives on Rembrandt’s vocation by paying more attention to his prints than to his finished paintings. It’s in the prints, these artists argue, that we see Rembrandt’s most dramatic attempts to turn other-wordly religious figures, such as Jesus and his mother Mary, into real human beings.


Are you part of the Protestant branch of Christianity? The film points out that the roots of contemporary protest prints extend all the way back to early Anabaptist religious propaganda about the tragic torture of their brothers and sisters by the powerful leaders of Catholic and Protestant churches. (Yes, early Protestants also went after the Anabaptists in a lethal way.) The image above is a typical 16th-century image of an Anabaptist being burned for her “heretical” beliefs as a witch. To this day, these centuries-old images are preserved and shared in Amish and Hutterite communities—among the contemporary descendants of the early Anabaptists.


Were you part of the anti-Vietnam War peace movement? One of the central figures in the film is Sigmund Abeles, still working many decades after he created the electrifying prints that were widely seen in anti-war protests in the late 1960s. His “Gifts of America” series of posters, which includes dark American helicopters raining death on Vietnamese villagers is one of the images discussed in the documentary.


Are you Jewish? Then you probably are well aware that protesting printmakers were in the thick of the turbulent social movements that culminated in the Nazi conquest in Europe. Among print-making artists, all lines seem to run through the Holocaust. Several examples of this are shown in the documentary. In our own ReadTheSpirit Book, Interfaith Heroes, Volume 1, readers find an inspiring profile of wood engraver Fritz Eichenberg, a Jewish artist who fled Nazi Germany and later became a major figure in Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker movement in the U.S. In fact, I would argue that even this new documentary was born of the Holocaust. Producer-Director is Manfred Kirchheimer was born in 1931 in Germany and became a transplanted American as a child, when his family fled from the Nazis to safety in the U.S.

If you’re among the millions of Americans who now see the world through digital media—mainly through video these days—this documentary also works on a subversive level. The Permanent Revolution uses our favorite medium of video to turn our attention back to one of the oldest and most powerful forms of communication. Spend a little over an hour with the men and women in The Permanent Revolution, and I guarantee you’ll walk away with a fresh appreciation of black and white prints.

The film also is terrific for sparking small group discussion. But watch out, because this is potent material. The movie is as potent as the prints were when they first were pulled from the presses many decades—and in some cases centuries—ago.

Art is… The Permanent Revolution is available from Amazon.

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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Joe Sacco nails down comic credentials in Journalism

Click the cover to jump to Amazon.

to new

Review by ReadTheSpirit
Editor David Crumm

“Show me!” In this YouTube era of media, that’s increasingly the demand from an information-hungry public. Newspapers and magazines surviving today seem to put more effort into photos and videos than they do into prose reporting. Clearly, pioneering comic book journalist Joe Sacco has lived long enough to smile at the twists of history that are heading in his direction. Images rule!

What’s more—Comics rule! Even the classics are coming back. Are you a fan of Walt Kelly’s Pogo? The entire run is coming back as a multi-volume series. Amazon already is listing the September release of Pogo: Bona Fide Balderdash (Part 2 in the new series).

The new Avengers movie from Walt Disney already is No. 3 on the Worldwide All-Time Box Office list compiled by the Internet Movie DataBase. The top 25 films on that list include movies featuring Spider-Man, Shrek, the Ice Age animals, Transformers, the Lion King, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Lord of the Rings. The No. 1 and No. 2 movies on the list are Avatar and Titanic. Clearly, the list is dominated by fantasy, comic heroes and cartoons.

Major publishers are aware of this trend! For example, check out W.W. Norton and Co.’s list of upcoming titles for 2012-2013. The latest Norton catalog includes a long-awaited new graphic novel by James Vance and Dan E. Burr, On the Ropes, set among performers in a Depression Era circus. The original graphic novel in this series, Kings in Disguise, garnered high praise for its tough tale of truly dark chapters in Depression-era history. Plus, Norton is bringing out a gorgeous hardback edition of Drawn Together: The Collected Works of R. and A. Crumb, a look at the artistic and real-life collaborations of Aline and R. Crumb. (All of those links, above, take you to Amazon pages where you can pre-order these gems.)

That brings us to Joe Sacco, who was formally trained in journalism at the University of Oregon—but immediately began tearing up the journalism handbook to add new chapters about world news reporting. There’s not a writer whose body of work is better described as “love him or hate him” in terms of public reception. To begin with, a lot of traditional journalists shook their heads when Sacco began tackling such hot-button stories as injustices in Palestine and the Bosnian War. Turning life-and-death journalism into comics!?! Then, even when readers began to give Sacco the benefit of the doubt in using comics to report the news, there were his stories themselves. Hand a copy of his epic work, Palestine, to a room full of people who really care about Israel and Palestine—and they soon will be ripping pages out of the book as they argue over its contents. That’s despite the fact that it won the American Book Award in 1996.


Just as Sacco produces non-traditional journalism, you are reading a non-traditional book review of his latest release, called simply: Journalism. At long last, just as Pogo is coming out in lavish hardback editions, Sacco’s shorter works of comic journalism over the years have been collected into a single hardback volume. Sacco has written a fresh Preface to this volume and it includes a fascinating, transparent description of his standards for comic journalism. He’s clear in arguing that this is a serious-minded, legitimate approach to reporting the news. Yes, he admits, the comic medium adds the bias of the individual artist’s drawing style to the factual reporting—but then, so does video editing in the slick new online video reports we are seeing from newspapers these days.

Click the cover to jump to Amazon.If you haven’t been following the explosion of comics as a new international language—from domination of the movie industry to the widespread revivals of classic comics—then check out Joe Sacco to see the potency of this movement. Sacco proves this isn’t merely nostalgia. This is a new non-fiction medium emerging on a global scale. Sure, Vance and Burr are producing a series of “graphic novels,” still carrying the label of fiction, but rest assured: For their readers, they are writing the history of the American Depression. That’s serious stuff. Yes, you may want to collect the Pogo reprints. We are big fans of Pogo at ReadTheSpirit. Yes, you may enjoy the mega-success of the Avengers and other comic super heroes.

But don’t miss Sacco’s work, because he is poking a sharply pointed pen into the red-hot nexus of global news media—and he is suggesting that the future may belong to budding Woodwards and Bernsteins who can literally set the scene for readers … by drawing it.

Here at ReadTheSpirit in the year ahead, Pssst! We have plans to join this trend in publishing. We are planning, now, to produce our own first comic book on the urgent issue of … Well, stay tuned to ReadTheSpirit. We’ll report that news in coming months. For now, order a copy of Journalism. (And, sure, pick up a copy of Pogo while you’re at it.

Please help us to reach a wider audience

We welcome your Emails at [email protected]
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Cardinal: Comic book hero learns hard lessons on bullying

This spring, we are helping parents, educators and community leaders to grapple with the rapidly changing nature of bullying. ReadTheSpirit just teamed up with students from the Michigan State University school of journalism to publish a book on this evolving problem.

That news prompted nationally known comic artist and author Kurt Kolka to contact us. Kurt’s day job is as a journalist in the editorial department of a regional newspaper. But his vocational passion has made him an influential online advocate for preserving vintage comics as well as for encouraging the best work among Christian comic artists. His own super hero is The Cardinal, who has evolved through print comics, and even some film adventures, into a colorful online hero who readers can follow free of charge at Go Comics. ReadTheSpirit has recommended Kurt’s work and even chimed in on some of his efforts on behalf of such classics as Alley Oop and Brenda Starr.

Kurt praised our new book with MSU, The New Bullying. This is a daily problem in our schools, Kurt wrote, and for the sake of the many young people and families who are affected: “The more we can get word out about the seriousness of this issue, the better!”

Kurt created an epic anti-bullying adventure for The Cardinal—whose alter ego is a mild-mannered high school student who sometimes is a target for bullies. The lengthy comic adventure involves the Cardinal facing the torments of bullies himself, plus sub-plots about several other young people who face various forms of abuse and react in different ways. One former victim turns himself into a super villain bent on revenge, which is an additional tragic outcome of bullying.

Here is Part 1 of the epic Cardinal adventure that involves various forms of bullying and features a hairy, snaggle-toothed super villain known as … dunnn, dunnn, dunnnThe Warthog!

Please help us to reach a wider audience

We welcome your Emails at [email protected]
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.


Gift ideas: Hanukkah & whole world for kids of all ages

Happy holidays!
We are helping you find spiritually uplifting gifts that will light up the holidays for your loved ones.
Earlier: We recommended a true-crime drama, a guide to finding contentment & an unusual prayer book.
Great video: We’ve found a terrific BBC sampler, an Ed Asner classic & Tree of Life, too.
For Children of All Ages: Fold out Hanukkah, circle the globe & enjoy spiritual wisdom of animals.
Bible Study with Fresh Eyes: We’ve got a trio of new and innovative Bible-study resources.


Considering that the most common theme of Hanukkah is freedom, as Michael Rosen and Robert Sabuda point out on the first page of their new Chanukah Lights, a pop-up book—then perhaps it is fitting that there are various English-language spellings of the holiday: from Hanukkah to Chanukah. The latter spelling is Rosen’s choice. His huge range of children’s books, over the years, runs from fishing to Jewish tales and his wonderful 2006 picture book, Chanukah Lights Everywhere, uses this same spelling. However, with no disrespect intended toward Rosen, this pop-up book is quite simply another must-own Robert Sabuda extravaganza for fans of 3D, moving-paper books. For the year-end holidays, we say: Robert, it’s about time! Sabuda has produced three other winter-holiday books, including one on the 12 Days of Christmas. Finally, he turns to Hanukkah. The collaboration with Rosen led him not to repeat the ancient story of military conflict and victory. Rather, Rosen and Sabuda use eight elaborate pop ups to chart the wide diversity of Jewish experiences around the world today. There’s even a gigantic, centuries-old sailing ship in one pop up, which reminds us that the Jewish diaspora has been unfolding for a very long time.


The gigantic pop-up book for Hanukkah isn’t the only world-circling journey Candlewick Press is offering at the end of this year! At ReadTheSpirit, we are journalists, so we are thrilled that this comic-book-style illustrated biography features a lively version of Nellie Bly’s round-the-world adventure. Two years ago, in 2009, we were embarrassed to overhear a mental mistake on NPR, listing Nellie Bly among a litany of “serial killers.” (No kidding! It actually happened on NPR!) As a result, we published a 2009 overview of Nellie Bly’s life as a pioneering journalist. While it is easy to dismiss Nellie as a publicity seeker, she clearly was driven to shine the light of journalism on many unfortunate corners of the human community. Even in this new graphic novel, which focuses only on her round-the-world adventure, Matt Phelan points out that she made time on Christmas Day 1889 to visit a leper colony. That was classic Nellie. This new graphic biography, Around the World: Three Remarkable Journeys, also features Thomas Stevens, the first person to cycle around the world, and Joshua Slocum, the first person to sail solo around the globe.


All we really need to say about the third book we are recommnding today is two words: Eckhart Tolle. Millions still are inspired by his approach to teaching spiritual truth. In Guardians of Being: Spiritual Teachings from Our Dogs and Cats, Tolle collaborated in an unprecedented way with Mutts cartoonist Patrick McDonnell. What is the connection point between these two very talented men? In our 2009 interview with McDonnell, which marked the hardback debut of this book, the Mutts cartoonist said: “In studying Tolle’s work—not only his books but his CDs and his DVDs—he talks about nature a lot and he talks about how animals bring us into the present moment—dogs and cats in particular. That’s at the heart of my work, too. I’m always showing readers this important bond we have with our animals. Since I started studying Eckhart’s work, some of my own work has been influenced by his teaching.” If you know someone who loves either Tolle’s or McDonnell’s work, this is a slam-dunk great gift for the holidays.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Love comics & animation? Meet Wham! Bam! Islam!

PBS’ 10th season of Independent Lens kicked off recently with a delightful and inspiring documentary: Wham! Bam! Islam! Our recommendation: Don’t miss this film! If you’ve already missed it on PBS, read this story to discover other ways you can enjoy The 99 and Wham! Bam! Islam! The documentary tells the triumphant story of one Muslim scholar—a Kuwaiti psychologist—who was driven to create new kinds of heroes for Muslim children around the world. Here is the PBS Independent Lens homepage where you can read more and check on PBS resources related to the film.

Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa realized that Islam strictly forbids any depictions of the Prophet Muhammad or of God—but Islam has one distinctive cultural feature known to Muslims around the world. Islam counts 99 “names” or “attributes” of God. These names include Rahman (compassionate or gracious), Rahim (merciful), Rauf (the kind). These 99 are as well known to Muslims as the first names of their friends and relatives, who carry these names chosen from the list of 99 with them throughout life as an inspiration to live as noble men and women.

In the new documentary Wham! Bam! Islam! Naif explains that, as a father himself and a psychologist, he was deeply disturbed by the culture of martyrdom he saw across much of the Muslim world. Instead, he wanted to create a Marvel Comics-class universe of comic books, cartoons and other products celebrating the 99, transformed into superheroes. Wham! Bam! Islam! tells about his rollercoaster ride over the past five years from huge success to near disaster to fresh new-media strategies and renewed success.

Who should make a point of seeing this film?
Anyone who … cares about cross-cultural competency,
… wants to understand the spread of new media,
… cares about the future of Islam in global culture,
… teaches children about diversity,
… loves comics, graphic novels and animation.

ReadTheSpirit has been following religiously diverse comics and graphic novels since our founding in 2007, when we first reported on The 99. Before becoming Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I reported on comics as part of my assignment covering religion in America for major newspapers. Comics rank among the most potent sources of fuel in popular culture around the world. Most of the 20 top-grossing movies of all time, now, are based on comicbook heroes. As a religion-news correspondent, I have traveled widely in Muslim countries and the culture of martyrdom that disturbed Naif is obvious everywhere one travels. Many major Muslim centers around the world commemorate martyrs—much like traditional Christian churches enshrine martyrs. The main difference is that many of the Muslim martyrs depicted in Muslim hot spots around the world are young men and women who died in various forms of political violence.

Naif is wise to try to move childrens’ eyes higher—to the noble heroes of their faith. Many Muslim children bear the names of the heroes in the 99. The potential here is powerful—so, watch this documentary! Get involved in promoting awareness of this alternative, inspiring cosmos of Muslim heroes!


What are the 99 in Muslim tradition? Wikipedia is a good starting point, listing all 99 with further links to many of the names.

What is The 99 comic project? Again, the Wikipedia overview is packed with information and links.

Want more on religion and comics? ReadTheSpirit has published many stories on these themes since 2007. But, this early series on comics, which includes The 99, still ranks among our most informative.

Want to connect with The 99’s mother lode of news? If you’re drawn to this comics series, and especially if you are an educator or community leader interested in this creative idea, then visit and bookmark The 99 website, which is the portal to all new developments on this project.

Want The 99 in Facebook? Here’s the fan page in Facebook with links currently to the documentary film.

Want to buy the movie? Educators and community leaders may want to jump over to iTunes and buy the documentary, which currently is only $9.99. You’ll find this film useful in classes and small groups. You can search the title itself in iTunes—or, the 99 website and Facebook page also currently link to iTunes.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.