My name is Susan Mattinson and I'm the minister of First Presbyterian Church in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.
You might say that I'm full of Shep! *ba-dum tsssss*
Here are the answers to some FAQ's... How did you come up with the idea for “Pastor Shep”? I’m proud to say that I draw like a six year old with over twenty years of practice! By that, I mean that I don't have any formal art education or complicated computer programs. I use paper, pencils, inking pens, and coloured pencils to create all the comics by hand and then I scan them onto the computer. I love that I still create pictures with essentially the same materials that I used when I was a child! The character of Pastor Shep was created while I was in seminary. I was struggling to make sense of the role I would have as a minister. Ministers are supposed to be leaders and there’s this idea that they're more equipped or more spiritually developed than the people in their church. But at the very same time, ministers are just Christians like everyone else—quirky, making mistakes, and trying their best to understand and to live their faith day by day. In my mind, ministers are essentially sheep who are shepherds…“sheepherds”, if you will. Where do your jokes come from? The inspiration for the jokes comes from a lot of different places. They're mistakes I’ve made, funny stories of my own or that other people have shared with me and allowed me to use; they’re things that I could see going wrong, even if they haven’t actually gone wrong. Sometimes they're simply funny puns, plays on words, things misheard or misunderstood, or odd Bible references—like in the case of the “Jehu’s Driving” comic. I actually had a number of people contact me to say they looked up the scripture reference themselves, just to make sure it was really in the Bible! What’s with the weird combination of animals? I use an impossible combination of animals in the comics. There are sheep, but there is also an octopus, turtle, a couple types of parrot, a chicken, goldfish, snake, spider, whale, and various other creatures. I do that to represent all the different personalities and even mobility issues of people in our churches. For instance, in my mind, the goldfish in the goldfish bowl represents someone in a wheelchair, or who is bedridden, or who is otherwise unable to get around by themselves. And yet, we see the goldfish still welcomed and taking part in the life of the congregation. What is a picture pageant? The picture pageants have been a unique offshoot of the Pastor Shep comics. It started one winter when I realized we didn't have enough children to stage a live Christmas Pageant in our church, but that children would still be coming to our Christmas Eve service. Wanting something that would still appeal to children in the audience, I wrote out the basic Christmas story and illustrated it as though the “Pastor Shep” characters were performing a Christmas pageant. On Christmas Eve, I read the story while projecting the pictures onto a large screen with an LCD projector. It went over really well! Actually, “Pastor Shep’s Picture Pageant” is now a published book! There is also a CD option that gives churches access to the raw pictures and story files. That way, a church can put together their own LCD presentation to use during the Christmas season. I hope to keep making various picture pageants and making them available as a unique resource for churches. Do you see this as a ministry? I absolutely consider “Pastor Shep” a ministry—a comic strip ministry! It’s cute and it’s fun, but I hope people also find the deeper layers in the comics—messages about what it means to be a part of a varied faith community; what it means to be a leader by being a servant; and what it means to have the humour and faith of a child. It’s easy to get frustrated, or point out the flaws and failings of the Church, but it’s my prayer that “Pastor Shep” will instead inspire people to celebrate the quirky family of faith that we’ve come to know and love. Truly, it’s a large and colourful tapestry that we get to be a part of, so let’s enjoy it!