The Grim Reaper is in Lakewood, working on redemption.
In life, he was a dictator who drowned the world in blood. In death, he is a cloaked rabbit charged with escorting souls to their afterlife.
His name is Jack, and he is the title character of an online comic that has been gathering fans for 10 years.
David Hopkins, 32, draws it. His wife, Katie Hopkins, 30, inks in the dialogue. He imagines the storylines. She shades in his ideas with challenges and questions.
Three times a week, they send Jack into his alternate universe from their two-room apartment near Western State Hospital in Lakewood.
To call Jack a comic implies that children might enjoy it.
No. Its themes and some of its drawings and language are for mature readers.
It reads like a serialized graphic novel. Readers can click on to the story arcs to follow Jack’s travels from death to death. As they do, they can see his development, and his creators’.
In 1998, David and Katie met over the Internet.
“We were both artists online,” Katie said.
They both had difficult childhoods.
David grew up in a military family that his mother left when he was a teenager. He attended Lakes and Lincoln high schools before graduating from Gig Harbor High School. He learned to draw by copying Chuck Jones cartoons. Hieronymus Bosch and Dante Alighieri, with their visions of hell, are his two main artistic influences.
Katie grew up in a home in Colorado where there was verbal abuse.
“In 2000, I was in a really bad home situation, and he called and said, ‘You don’t have to put up with that any more. Come out here,’” she said.
The next year they married, and began work on Jack.
“She knew even before I did what I was trying to achieve,” David said. “She’s the one who suggested I do this.”
He’s a night watchman on the Tideflats. She does freelance art online while she looks for work as a security guard. If you wanted an artist to draw you an avatar for your life online, she would do it for $30, or $90 if you wanted multiple avatars in a complicated setting.
It is a slim living, but it keeps them in that apartment with their two cats. It keeps them unspooling the story that 14,000 readers follow.
Jack makes them very little money. When they have faced economic crises, they have asked for help. Readers sent money for their truck repairs and emergency dental care for David. They are that invested in the story the two are telling.
Together they explore the nature of religion, free will and salvation with a story populated by animal characters.
“I grew up in several religions,” David said. “Mormon, Christian, Seventh-day Adventist. I think I have one now. The comic became about challenging religious preconceptions.”
Jack, the rabbit, had no sense of what he had done. His first story lines were violent.
He is beginning to understand his sins. He finds justice for the dead he escorts, such as Virgil, a teen who killed himself because he did not save his classmates at Columbine High School.
“Jack says, ‘I’m not taking you to hell. We are going to figure this out,’” David said. “He is trying to find a way to be at peace with who he was and to redeem himself. That a loving God would punish someone forever, that’s one of the notions I wanted to challenge. You should be given a chance to be better than you were.”
Lately, an angel named Farrago has been working with Jack, deepening the discussion of the afterlife. It has resonated with readers.
They write to David, telling him the story has inspired them to be better people.
“He hears from people who say he has saved them from suicide,” Katie said.
He hears, too, from people facing death.
Friends of a dying woman in the Midwest wrote to him.
“She was a fan,” David said. “She wanted a picture of Jack coming for her.”
He sent her a drawing of a woman at peace, writing while the Grim Reaper stands behind her, his face filled with tenderness.
Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677
TO READ THE COMIC
Go online to www.pholph.com. Be warned: It has mature themes and adult language at times.