FRANKFORT, Ky. –
Kentucky National Guard chaplains are always looking for ways to help Soldiers and Airmen with whom they are charged to support spiritually. For one of these chaplains, his passion for comics became his pathway to influence. I sat down with him to learn how he uses his graphic illustrated comics to help him communicate with his troops.
Chaplain (Capt.) Gregory Christopher Granderson is the state support chaplain full-time and drills with the 206th Engineer Battalion, 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade.
CRANE: Where are you from?
GRANDERSON: I am originally from Brooklyn, New York, but since I did my active duty time at Fort Campbell, I decided to stay in Kentucky when I left active duty. I love New York, that’s my home, but I’m a tropical boy at heart. I just prefer to avoid the cold and only go back to visit.
CRANE: When did you join the National Guard?
GRANDERSON: While on active duty, I served as military police, finishing my active service at Fort Campbell. I transitioned from there into the Guard in November of 2003. I came in as a specialist and was with the Medical Command as a dental assistant.
CRANE: What led you to become a chaplain?
GRANDERSON: I felt the call as my faith and relationship with God grew. As a first lieutenant, I was a PAD (patient admin) officer, and Soldiers would come to me since they knew my faith. They saw how I carried myself and that my character was different. They would ask me questions, so I had opportunities to counsel them on and off duty. I also hosted Bible studies, and there was some interest there. I found myself ministering to Soldiers even though I was a PAD officer doing patient advocate duties. The Soldiers trusted me. That kind of led me to think, "Well, if I am going to do this, I should do this full time." So, I applied to be a chaplain. They weren't taking any candidates the first time, but the second time I tried, Chaplain (retired) General Graetz brought me into the candidacy.
CRANE: Do you work in a church in any facet?
GRANDERSON: I am the assistant pastor at City of David Christian Center in Clarksville, Tennessee.
CRANE: When did you realize you like to draw?
GRANDERSON: I am no artist. Drawing is not actually my thing. I am more of a writer. My love and passion for comics is something I have had since childhood. Growing up in Brooklyn, where it's considered the birthplace of comics, you really are immersed by it. I realized the influence they had on me. I wanted to be the hero and give back, be in the military, be a police officer, those types of services. I realized I could write when I was in school. But I was more of a jock. Everybody had those aspirations to be the super athlete, so I didn't pay much attention to my writing, but I had teachers who really supported me and knew I could write. In fact, I wrote a play when I was in 10th grade. My creative writing teacher pushed me to have it placed into a Young Play Writers competition in Brooklyn. Although I didn't win, it showed me they saw things in me I didn't, but I knew I enjoyed writing and storytelling.
CRANE: What made you come up with “Chaplain Tate,” the comic being published in the Bluegrass Guard magazine? How did that success come about?
GRANDERSON: Chaplain Tate came from my growing faith as I sought God's plan for how I could use this skill. I love storytelling, and I love the world of comics. I wanted to use this passion to send messages of faith and encouragement to others. I had a desire to use these skills to bring encouragement and glorify God. When I came over to this position, I realized the chaplains didn't really have a far-reaching platform for this. So, I reached out to the public affairs office to see what we can do to share messages of encouragement, whether it be through dialogue or illustrations. That's where I came up with that. I thought I could have this character--in a sort of animated way--express encouraging values to others in a way that connects with and helps Soldiers, whether mentally, physically, or spiritually.
The first idea to use comics came to me when I was a police officer. I used to teach the G.R.E.A.T. program, which stood for Gang Resistance Education and Training. I got the idea for a sci-fi action comic to complement the curriculum I introduced to the fifth graders. The premise would be about officers who overcame adversities and possessed special skills they could use while fighting crime and helping others. They would wear these tactical Nano Suits that enhanced their innate abilities. The main character is a sergeant who happened to be African American and grew up in the foster system. His brother was killed due to gang violence when he was a child. So, that was his motivation to do better and be better. He is eventually adopted by his earth science teacher from Korea and has his first martial arts experience in Taekwondo. At age 18, he begins his journey traveling the world to learn different arts. It is a little spin-off from me. I am not a foster kid, but my earth science teacher in junior high was my first martial arts instructor. The lessons the characters face throughout the comic’s storyline complement what is taught in the G.R.E.A.T. program. This was a fun and engaging way for the students to receive those lessons.
CRANE: What is your favorite comics that have influenced you?
GRANDERSON: I’d have to say my biggest influence was Stan Lee and his creation of Spider Man. My favorite character, though, is Iron Man, with Batman making up my top three.
CRANE: Now, you said that you are not an artist and you don't draw these. What programs do you use to create the comic?
GRANDERSON: Initially, when I was doing the team G.R.E.A.T. series, I sought out to get illustrators, and that didn't quite work out. I reached out to the art department at my college (Austin Peay State University). But, students already have a hard enough time, you know, handling their coursework as artists. I couldn't pay them, and they would not get course credit for assisting me, so I had to come up with something else. I discovered computer graphics and found a software called Daz Studio. It was free to download and very user-friendly. Then, there was another image editing software called GIMP. They call it the poor man's Photoshop, and I learned some skills on that. I love black and white art so I kind of adapted and applied that into what I was doing. Over time, and with a bit of practice, I came up with a look that I liked.
CRANE: What kind of schools have you attended?
GRANDERSON: I earned an associate degree in police science from Hopkinsville University and a bachelor's in public management from Austin Peay State University. Then, I received my Master of Divinity from Liberty University in 2016.
CRANE: Do you have a family? And, are there any other hobbies you’re into?
GRANDERSON: Yes, I have a wife, Christa, and two teenage children. My son is 13, and my daughter is 15. I like working out and staying in shape. I would almost say creating comics was a hobby, but it has become far more than that. I enjoy doing it so much, and I know there is a purpose that God has given me for it, so I want to see that through. There are a lot of ideas I wrote down that will probably outlive me. But, I will bring to life as many of those ideas as I can while I yet have God’s breath flowing through my nostrils.
Check out Chaplain Granderson's work with Team G.R.E.A.T., available online. As a future project, he is currently outlining for a series of children's books that will reach out to younger kids and use uplifting characters sharing positive messages of faith, values, patience, determination, and triumph.