The Richard Dawkins Foundation is pleased to announce our first official cartoonist! Jacob Fortin is the comic book artist and creator of The Good Atheist podcast. He's also the author of Bible Stories, a laugh out loud retelling of the Bible with incisive observations about its flaws. He'll be draw a cartoon to be featured in the Richard Dawkins newsletter and agreed to speak with us and is our Secular VIP of the Week!
RDF: What kind of atheist are you? Do you have an origin story, like Batman?
Jacob Fortin: I AM Batman….kidding. A few years ago I would have called myself a "militant atheist", back when I first started my blog and podcast, "The Good Atheist". Even in 2007, there were a lot of great blogs, but there were few good podcasts. It was a medium I felt I could make the greatest inroads in, and the popularity of the show was no doubt influenced by the fact that i was such an early adopter. The goal of the podcast, from it's very inception, was to use my own energy and exuberance to fuel the confidence of the average atheist who would often be surrounded by people who did not share their opinions. That can be hard on people's psychology. so for years, I talked with as much gusto and confidence as I could, doing my part to make my fellow atheists feel confident and, more importantly, understood.
RDF: The last time I saw a Bible, I popped it open to a random page and got The Song of Solomon. Holy shit, there's porn in the Bible! Tell us about writing Bible Stories and the weird stuff you found rewriting the Bible verse by verse.
Jacob Fortin: At first I didn't plan on re-writing it paragraph by paragraph. I was planning only on making it a humorous summary of the various stories in the Bible. But as time went on, I realized that I would be missing a lot of important details. For instance, in Genesis, when Abraham and his wife Sarah are trying to find a new land to settle, they basically scam the local ruler into marrying Sarah, and when God curses the unsuspecting victims, they give Abraham a bunch of money and cattle to try and square things off. A little while later, they do it all over again, this time in Egypt! What a bunch of grifters!
RDF: That's insane. Something's telling me that's far from all you found.
Jacob Fortin: Far from it. Even something as seemingly innocent as the holiday of Purim has disturbing roots (basically it involves the Jews killing 75,000 people after almost getting wiped out themselves in the Book of Esther). But because religious traditions benefit from the general ignorance of their followers, the inhumanity and cruelty of their foundation texts are usually ignored. I wanted to help modernize the stories so that anyone with a bit of time and curiosity would be able to understand what lies at the heart of Judeo-Christian belief. What's amazing is that the stories themselves are so outrageous and shocking that my only real job consists of making sure it's written in such a way that people read the bible from front to back. This alone, in my opinion, would go a long way towards making many more atheists.
RDF: You've had a podcast for a while, and now you're pioneering live video podcasting on YouTube. How's it different live? What experience do you create for your viewers?
Jacob Fortin: Youtube has decided to push this exciting new feature: live video. It's difficult to explain how amazing this new technology is. For the price of a few webcams, the average person can have the equivalent of a TV studio. What makes "live video" different are people's expectations; you're more likely to watch something for longer if you don't know what's going to happen next. In a sense, the only way to get people to pay attention is with this kind of excitement and anticipation. As I get more experienced doing this, my hope is that I can be the "Johnny Carson" of youtube. People forget that Johnny was a magician and hated superstitious hucksters like Peter Poppof or Yuri Geller. Plus, he had a hell of a show. So yeah, as usual, I'm probably over-reaching.
RDF: So many atheists are in the closet. It can feel a bit lonely. It sounds like you are going beyond creating content to propelling a community.
Jacob Fortin: I'm interested in entertaining people, rather than educate them. There's no doubt that non-believers have won the argument about the existence of God (or lack of proof of such a being), but as we've seen recently, facts aren't enough to change people's minds. You need to reach them using different means. Humans are curious by nature, but the certainty of religion stunts that curiosity, but it does not kill it. Considering the wealth of amazing information at our disposal, we have only ourselves to blame for failing to reach the masses. My new show, "Still Talking with Jacob Fortin", is an attempt to branch out from the limiting confines of "atheism" and attempt to reach a broader audience while still staying true to my skeptic and humanist roots. So far, the response from everyone has been tremendous.
RDF: That must make you feel great, to hear the response from fans.
Jacob Fortin: My fans are amazing people, which is why I started my own "cult" called "the 300" and actively recruited them. It's a kind of long running in-joke that I was destined to be a cult leader, and so I set out to create the least creepy cult in existence. Members are encouraged to leave, and everyone gets to pick their own, arbitrary number (so long as it's not higher than 300, though fractions and irrational numbers are allowed). it's meant to poke fun of not only religious people, but anyone who is afraid of the idea of "groups of people congregating together". Look, Star Trek is a cult, but you don't see Trekkies running around trying to destroy rival groups. It's not groups forming that scares me: it's the beliefs and ideas that unite them. When atheists stop fearing the good elements of organized religions, then maybe we can start competing with these guys (and they are usually only guys…). In other words, i think the most important thing for us to remember is not to take ourselves too seriously.
RDF: How did you meet J.L. Giles-Rivera, your partner for this new cartoon series for the Richard Dawkins Foundation? What's your creative process and what can we expect to see?
Jacob Fortin: Jose was a fan of The Good Atheist podcast for a few years, (and eventually a member of the 300) and he reached out to me. When I saw how amazing his art was, I proposed to him the idea of working together on some future projects. I'm way too ambitious for my own good, and I've always wanted to work on a graphic novel. Despite the fact that I'm no slouch on the artistic side, I don't have the same level of passion for it that he does. Jose LOVES making comics, but he'll be the first to admit that he's not really a writer. So, when I started to tell him about a story idea I've been developing for a few years, he jumped at the chance to work with me. Of course, we've only been able to work on small projects until "Bible Stories" is finished. I don't want to reveal too many details about the graphic novel itself, but I have to admit that I can't wait to trade re-writing ancient myths for making some of my own.
RDF: One final question. Where do you see the secular movement heading? More like Planet of the Apes or more like a shrug, "Oh, Jesus, yeah, you know, I used to have a scene with him."
Jacob Fortin: The key to all great movements is art in my opinion. While the secular movement has been mainly dominated by intellectual argument, I feel as though the time has come for us to focus our efforts on how we market our message. All the major religious movements always recruited the best artists and musicians. They had all the money and influence once upon a time. Plus, you didn't usually get to turn them down (just ask Michelangelo!).
RDF: Thanks for speaking with us today. Is there anything we didn't get to that you wanted to mention?
Jacob Fortin: A few weeks ago I had a telethon trying to raise another 3,000 to finish the book by the end of March. Unfortunately, we didn't quite make it, but that was mostly a marketing failure on my part..You can't get everything right! If people are interested in supporting this huge project, they should check out a sample of the e-book or audiobook. Every little bit helps!
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