These awesome comics were published in the early seventies (1972 / 1973) by Spire Christian Comics, and were the work of former Archie artist Al Hartley, a born again Christian. There were quite a few titles in the Spire Christian Comics line – at least 57, as far as I can tell – most of them written and drawn by Hartley. Some featured the various Archie characters, others were adaptations of bible stories, and others (like these two) adapted Christian novels. After looking at lists of the other Spire comics available, I reckon I have managed to pick up two of the best titles – by which I mean that they have the funniest titles – although I would definitely be interested in picking up copies of ‘God’s Smuggler’, ‘He’s The Greatest’ (the story of Jesus), and ‘Jughead’s Soul Food’, and I would probably donate a testicle for a copy of ‘Hello, I’m Johnny Cash’.
‘Hansi , The Girl Who Loved The Swastika’, is the story of a young girl (Hansi) who turns her back on Jesus and joins the Hitler youth after the Nazis arrive in Sudetenland in 1938. Hansi soon turns into a cold-hearted, wide-eyed robot, who is proud to be living on rations ‘for Germany’s great future’, dismisses the suffering of blinded German soldiers while working as a nurse (Soldier: ‘I lost my ideals when I lost my eyes on the Russian front!’ Nurse Hansi: ‘We are nothing--- The Reich is everything!’), and spurns the advances of all men (‘I’m pure! And I’m going to stay pure!’). Even after the war, when Hansi ends up in a Russian labour camp where all the other women are repeatedly raped by soldiers every night, she manages to remain pure, because the soldiers think that young, pretty Hansi is too skinny.
After escaping the Russian labour camp with her purity intact, Hansi is rescued by American soldiers and is surprised to find that not all soldiers are fussy rapists, just Russian soldiers. Later, she is reunited with her childhood sweetheart, who she feared dead at sea, and they marry, but there is still something missing in their lives. Then, one day, her husband brings home a bible and Hansi reluctantly (at first) re-embraces the word of God. Eventually, they have children (by this point, I’m assuming that Hansi is no longer pure – the filthy slut!) and move to America, where Hansi, now working as a teacher, is shocked by all the litter, obesity levels, and the proliferation of consumer goods. ‘I wonder---,’ says Hansi, ‘do all these things obscure God’s blessings??? Is that why so many of my students are troubled???’ However, while listening to the American national anthem, Hansi hears the line ‘one nation under God’ and realises that it’s okay to love America, as unlike Nazi Germany, America has been blessed by God, and ‘it’s all right to love what God has blessed!’ She then dedicates her life to helping young people to find God, visiting prisons, and shit like that.
‘The Cross and the Switchblade’ is another corker, although it was never going to be as good as its hilarious cover promised. This cover shows a bland looking teenage hoodlum holding up a preacher at knifepoint, saying: ‘I could kill you, preach!’ To which the preacher replies: ‘Yes, you could, Nicky! You could cut me up in a thousand pieces! And every piece will say I love you!’
The story is about a preacher who abandons his pregnant wife with her blessing, and the blessing of his congregation, who even have a whip-round for him, and heads to sleazy New York to sort out the gang problem - with God’s help, of course. Dismissed by the authorities, he soon finds himself hanging around with teenage gangs and heroin addicts, and eventually wins them over when he manages to convert the toughest gang member, Nicky, and convinces him to throw away his grass and become a preacher, using tactics such as love and irrefutable logic (Nicky: ‘How can I trust something I can’t see or feel?’ Preacher: ‘If you could see it and feel it, it wouldn’t require any faith! But God wants you to live by faith!’).
The artwork in both comics is a little bland but actually pretty good. The art in ‘Hansi’ is blandest, and way too cute for a story about Nazi Germany and Russian rape camps. The weirdest thing about it, though, is that, even though the story takes place over several decades, Hansi doesn’t seem to age at all. Towards the end of the comic, she visits some prisoners in an American prison and tells them about her escape from the Russians and her first encounter with American soldiers. She says: ‘None of you were born then--- but maybe your dad was there that morning!’, which makes me think that Hansi is supposed to be pretty old at this point, but she still looks just like a 12-year-old girl! The art in ‘The Cross and the Switchblade’ is more stylish, and even has a touch of Steve Ditko about it, but it really is just a touch and mainly it looks like the art in an Archie comic, which also doesn’t look right in a story about gang violence and drug addiction (that reminds me, I really must look out for a copy of that ‘Archie Vs The Punisher’ comic that came out in the ‘90s). Ever wanted to see Veronica from Betty and Veronica on heroin, or see an Archie character say the ‘N’ word? Then look out for a copy of ‘The Cross and the Switchblade’ and your dreams will come true.
Cost: I bought these comics from a woman my sister put me in touch with after she saw her selling comics at a car boot sale. I went to her house on Saturday and spent an hour or so rummaging through piles of ‘80s and ‘90s crap, only managed to find ten comics I actually wanted to buy, and even a few of those I had to think about. These two, however, leapt out at me and begged to be bought. Was God calling to me? I doubt it. I am not religious (in case you haven’t already worked that out) and doubt I ever will be, but I will happily add these two curiosities to my comic collection and think they were well worth the £1.00 each I paid for them.