Catholic Writer Tells a Pro-Life Horror Story

Deal W. Hudson
June 21, 2009

Matthew Lickona is a Catholic writer who understands the new media, as a visit to his classy Website immediately attests. Already well-known for his book Swimming with Scapulars: True Confessions of a Young Catholic (Loyola Press, 2006), Lickona also understands the changing habits of younger readers, which is why he has published the first chapter of his graphic novel, Alphonse: Untimely Ripp’d.

At a coffee bar in San Diego a few months ago, Lickona told me that he had noticed the steady expansion of the graphic novel section in local bookstores. “It was the only place where you could find readers under 30 hanging out to read books.”

A graphic novel is a “novelistic story told in sequential art,” Lickona told me when I pressed him for a definition. He also reminded me that one of my favorite recent movies – 300 – was adapted from a graphic novel written and illustrated by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley.

The popularity of these novels among younger readers is undeniable – my own 20-year-old daughter reads them. However, Alphonse was the first graphic novel I’ve ever read. It begins with the story of a young woman, addicted to heroin, seeking an abortion at eight months. The doctor agrees to the procedure, over the objections of his nurse, using the justification that the mother is a junkie. When he begins the procedure and opens the mother’s womb, the baby – Alphonse – escapes the operating room and then the clinic, ending up in the arms of an abortion protester who takes him home.

Admittedly, the idea of a baby with abnormal strength (due to his mother’s drug abuse) escaping from an abortion clinic is a conceit the reader may struggle to accept, but Lickona and his illustrator, Chris Gugliotti, solve the problem by writing the unborn baby into the story. Alphonse is aware of what his mother intends to do: “Wake up… Get ready… It’s coming… I’ve seen it coming… ,” are the opening lines of the novel, and they belong to Alphonse.

Lickona agrees that using the baby’s voice creates a creepy atmosphere. “It’s a little bit of a horror story,” he explained and seemed pleased when I told him the visual style reminded me of Ridley Scott’s classic 1979 movie Alien. The subtitle for the completed novel, “A Monster for Our Times,” reminded me of Mary Shelley’s 1818 Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus. People forget that Frankenstein is the doctor, and his creation is referred to only as the “creature” or the “monster.” Lickona’s “monster for our times” has a name and a voice but, like Shelley’s creature, fights to live in the face of a creator who wants to murder him.

The comparison with Frankenstein also underscores the advantage of this particular visual medium: Graphic novels engage the visual sense. “It’s like making a movie without a movie budget,” Lickona says.

I was intrigued by Lickona’s story and enjoyed studying the images to pick up parts of the narrative that were not contained in the text. It left me wanting to know what would happen to all the characters, especially the mother, whose parents would not answer the phone as she wept following the abortion; the doctor who feared media coverage of the escaped baby; and the woman who scooped up Alphonse from behind the garbage bins and sought heroin for the newborn’s addiction.

Alphonse: Untimely Ripp’d is being sold online only for $2.99, and Lickona asks his readers to support the cost of publishing the remaining chapters. All the money collected from book sales and donations will go to paying the illustrator and publishing costs. I encourage readers to buy a copy of Lickona’s first chapter, even if the idea of reading a graphic novel never occurred to you.

[A word of caution: Due to some violent themes and coarse language, Alphonse is more suitable for mature teenagers or young adults. Give Alphonse to either and it will be read, quickly.]

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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