To the common newspaper reader, the comics are the bright spots in a pile of oppressive reading. After murders, complex international events, and omens of an economy squeezing even tighter, the funnies are a refuge.

But to the men and women who write and draw them, the funnies are serious business. Tim Downs knows, because he is the author of the nationally syndicated “Downstown.” He is also a traveling lecturer for Campus Crusade for Christ.

The inevitable question, of course, is: Does Downs’s faith have any relevance to what shows up on the funny page? He has no doubt. “I write a Christian comic strip because I am a Christian.… My basic philosophy is a biblical philosophy of life,” he says.

Still, Downs wants to be subtle. Blatant Bible pounding would alienate readers, and broad-brush nuances from his art. One of Downs’s most clever and profound series occurred last Christmas, when he depicted children asking hard questions about Santa Claus. One boy wrote earnestly to the North Pole: “They say you know if we’ve been sleeping; you know if we’re awake. Doesn’t this demand omnipresence? You know if we’ve been bad or good. This implies your authority to assign moral absolutes. Are you aware of the staggering theological implications of these claims?”

Downs’s favorite series was inspired by evangelical philosopher Francis Schaeffer. Agreeing with Schaeffer’s theme that modern man has turned from absolute truths and is lost in amaze of relativities, Downs invented a superhero called “Captain Relative.” The captain, appropriately dressed in gray (“for all the gray areas of life,” explains Downs), goes about doing good deeds—relatively good deeds. He rescues a girl’s cat from a tree, but, when she has no money to reward him, throws ...

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