Feature: An Ordinary Superhero

If you are looking for a “KA-POW” in this comic book, you won’t find it. KJ Kolka’s new comic The Cardinal packs a different kind of punch. Combining drama and humor with a spiritual element, Kolka’s main character, Rich Benton (the Cardinal), is an average Joe turned accidental superhero — although stress makes him lose his lunch…

KJ Kolka always appreciated comics, reading the Incredible Hulk and the Astonishing Ant Man as a child; he took up drawing when he was hospitalized for Crohn’s disease at age 11. He used his gift for writing and drawing to keep in touch with his classmates while he was in and out of school.

“I would write little mini-novels and short stories to give to my friends,” said Kolka. “… and eventually that developed into comic books.”

As a college student at Concordia University in the early 1980s, Kolka revived his love for comics when he created the strip for Concordia’s newspaper. Taking inspiration from the school’s mascot for his main character —The Cardinal was born. The comic strip gained popularity around campus when Kolka’s classmates and local Ann Arbor attractions appeared regularly. Kolka even created an accompanying movie and “first edition” comic book which sold a surprising 120 copies.

“I wore a red sweatshirt and a black headband and went door to door in the dorm selling my comic books.” said Kolka.

While the original strip only lasted the duration of Kolka’s time at Concordia, the present day Cardinal (and the outfit) — have gotten more sophisticated.

“Comics today have become much more serious and violent then they used to be,” said Kolka. “I wanted to create a non-denominational Christian character who deals with real life social issues—difficulties facing people and the organizations that try to help them. The stories don’t rely heavily on battles with villains, but most often down-to-earth criminals and issues our society faces.”

Set in fictional post 9-11 “Arbor City,” character Rich Benton is looking for his purpose in life. Diverted on the way to a costume party, Rich Benton finds himself in an unlikely situation— solving crime.

“The Cardinal himself is motivated by compassion for his neighbors, rather than vengeance against criminals.” said Kolka. “He’s just a normal guy, he can’t do a lot of physical fighting—parents will be relieved!”

Although the underlying message tells a story that is all-too true, the comic is full of action and humor that kids and adults can relate to.

“I didn’t aim this comic just at kids,” said Kolka. “…This story links us as adults today with our childhood sense of adventure. It’s a tale of hope in a world we hadn’t anticipated.”

You can view the online version of The Cardinal at: gocomics.com/tehcardinal.

Type: Feature Article
Published: Thursday, April 8
AnnArbor.com (print edition)
Link to Article

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