GUIDE TO THE LITTLEST ATHEIST COMIC STRIP
“Adventures in Unbelieving” by cartoonist Jeff Swenson
The Littlest Atheist comic strip goes back to 2007 when I was starting to see a lot of repetition in one shot panel cartoons on subjects of religion and an unbeliever’s viewpoint. In other words, I felt that we were starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel because religion doesn’t present new ideas, only reformulated ideas based on the same old beliefs. What we needed were strong and interesting characters who questioned faith in god. I also, for the sake of interest, wanted to see flawed characters who learn and discover because the one thing that Christians and other people of faith do not understand about skeptics and atheists is that we’re not static. We take note of our errors and reexamine our thinking almost on a daily basis whereas faith doesn’t demand that you think–you just accept.
Bertrand is that character. He’s influenced by a couple of traditional comic strips I grew up with from The Peanuts to Calvin ‘N’ Hobbes as well as the many manga digests I read and to top it off I would throw in Saturday Morning Cartoons. He’s an arrogant little kid trying to assert himself with a minority viewpoint and his mistakes are numerous BUT he makes some very valid points with his skepticism and doubt. The idea of a character driven comic strip on unbelieving is not necessarily to be an editiorial for atheism and say I’m right, sometimes it is simply to explore or have a character make errors and see what happens.
The strip itself started out as a more traditional comic strip with one shot gags or quips and has progressively turned into a mystery adventure to find out how Bertrand’s dad died, why his mother went from atheism back to Christianity, and who are the shadowy figures known as The Restorationists. Thus far there have been two main adventures: Goodie The Gospel Peanut and The Babysitter Lurks, each with a central villain. Previously, there were one shot gags and holiday storylines. I am planning to start working on collections soon for tablets and even a specially sized collection for smartphones. Even after 6 years the strip is still in its infancy and there is so much to tell. I figured we needed to track our characters and situations with this guide.
Bertrand Wells – Our unbelieving hero is inspired by his deceased father’s freethinking ideals, but protective of his Christian mother. Bertrand starts each day pointing the finger at the accepted fairytales of modern times. It certainly does not make him popular. Because of his mother, he still has to go to church, but that only gives him a chance to test his debating skills with his youth pastor and peers. He’s got a big mouth and a tiny body. It’s bound to get him into trouble.
Bertrand’s Dad – There’s a mystery surrounding the death of Bertrand’s dad. The police report says “car accident” but then why do these villains keep popping up that want information related to him and why do they want to influence and ultimately convert Bertrand? Are they concerned for his soul? Or is something more insidious going on?
Kari Wells – Previously, she claims she was an unbeliever, even branding herself an atheist. Now she is a devout Christian and wants Bertrand to be one too. Is this faith real because her husband’s death woke her up spiritually or is it done for the purposes of stability and comfort within her community? She dates Bertrand’s youth pastor (Youth Pastor Fred) which drives Bertrand nuts. Overall, she appears to be a loving figure with the best of intentions, but why the radical conversion?
Youth Pastor Fred – Bertrand’s nemesis, though he really isn’t a bad guy. They just argue all the time and Bertrand doesn’t like the idea of him dating his mom (gasp, what if his youth pastor becomes his father?). Fred is your typical youth pastor engaged with pop culture and attempting to keep up on what’s happening with his kids. Besides Bertrand, his other conflict is with his daughter Tina who is resentful of his divorce. In one storyline she literally states she “hates God!” which is not an atheist position (have to believe in something you hate). Tina is cynical and resentful in stark contrast to Bertrand who, while always questioning and arguing, has a more positive outlook on life as he is a science enthusiast and burgeoning humanist.
Guy In Shadows – All we know about this shadow figure is that his name is Robert and that he is one of the leaders of The Restorationists. He has contacts everywhere, within religion, media and government, and yet his plans never go “as planned” when it comes to Bertrand. For whatever reason, he has a strong interest in Bertrand–not exactly malevolent as he doesn’t want any physical harm to come to the younster, but he does want to convert him. Apparently Bertrand may also be inheriting some secrets from his now deceased father which The Restorationists want.
The Park Monk – First introduced in a short storyline about a snowman and then an appearance in Goodie the Gospel Peanut, The Park Monk is a mentor of Bertrand, only Bertrand doesn’t understand this yet. More will be revealed about his origins in upcoming adventures. He literally lives in the park and spreads his humanist philosophy with whoever wants to talk. He’s hardly what you call homeless though as he has revealed to Bertrand a hidden bunker underneath the city park where he lives when he’s not contemplating the universe.
Devil Boy – (also known as Jonathan). Devil Boy certainly doesn’t belong at church but he ends up there anyways as his parents force him to go. He is a practicing Satan worshipper or rather an incompetent one. He doesn’t understand that the official Church of Satan is allegorical and philosophical and if there is true Satanism it is found amongst people who are delusional and not quite right in the head. Devil Boy tries to be evil; at best he’s a delinquent who never harms anyone but himself…and possibly Bertrand by accident.
Demon Dog – Named by his owner Devil Boy, Demon Dog is a small pug with a pug curiosity. His name is derived from a sudden change of behavior when he is sicked on someone and attacks. This happened in Goodie the Gospel Peanut when Demon Dog went crazy on everyone and helped save Devil Boy, Lori and Bertrand. Devil Boy says it is because his dog is possessed, but Bertrand just rolls his eyes. Dogs can be very reactive with commands, there’s nothing Satanic about it.
Lori – Bertrand’s Christian school mate. Bertrand and Lori have had their run-ins with each other but for the most part they get along, especially after Goodie the Gospel Peanut. Lori is a literalist, however, she’s learned to steer away from being too fanatical after witnessing Goodie’s behavior as he demanded everyone convert to his way of thinking.
Bouncer – Introduced in The Babysitter Lurks, Bouncer is an advanced toy designed by Bertrand’s father. He was left to Bertrand as a guardian against some of the more fanatical members of The Restorationists. While giving the appearance of being a cute teddy bear, Bouncer is as tough as a Navy Seal. Unfortunately, he tends not to get the respect he deserves because of how he looks. Bertrand thinks he’s too pushy and grumpy.
Goodie the Gospel Peanut – Goodie is two persons, or rather one person with a split mind. No one knows what happened, but the puppeteer behind Goodie is a radical fundamentalist and can’t seem to function without his alter ego “Goodie.” Goodie, himself, is a proselytizing peanut puppet. He has been on TV and on the road telling kids the gospel. He has also been used to beat people to death.
Mother T – The self-proclaimed babysitter in The Babysitter Lurks. We don’t quite know who she is, only that she works for The Restorationists and reports to a person named Professor Gizzle.
As mentioned there have been two main series (at the time of this writing, the second is still completing):
Goodie The Gospel Peanut – Bertrand’s mom makes him go to Youth Pastor Fred’s sleepover at church. When the entertainment arrives, the youth group gets more than they bargained for. Bertrand has to use his mental prowess and his little kid fighting skills against puppets to survive the night.
The Babysitter Lurks – Bertrand receives a gift from his dad, even though his dad passed on years earlier. It’s a toy which he thinks he is too old for. He tosses it aside. Then he is watched by a strange bald man who eventually gets too close and someone gets hurt. Later, Bertrand’s mom goes out on a date with Youth Pastor Fred and hires a babysitter. The only problem is that two women show up claiming to be the babysitter and only one of them is telling the truth. The other works for The Restorationists.
Upcoming adventures with tentative titles:
The Nativity War (Christmas with The Park Monk) – Bertrand finds out who The Park Monk is and has to face down an army of baby Jesus figures from Nativity displays across his neighborhood.
Island of the Dead Apologists – Bertrand discovers one of his dad’s pet projects, an island amusement park with toy figures that challenge him on his beliefs. What starts out as fun turns deadly as the controls for the island are taken over by someone who thinks it would be better if Bertrand dies before he can spread his atheism.