Cartoonist riles some with ‘Christ on Campus’ strip

VIRGINIA — Another college cartoonist has stirred up controversy by depicting areligious figure, but this time it is not Islam’s Muhammad, butChristianity’s Jesus.

Christian Keesee, a sophomore at RadfordUniversity, has been drawing the controversial comic strip ”Christ onCampus” since October of last year for an online student magazine calledWhim.

The strip has sparkeddebate on the message boards of the magazine’s Web site and has prompteduniversity officials to meet with the magazine’s editor in chief about thecartoon.

Cartoons have been a hot topic recently for college andmainstream media after a Danish newspaper printed cartoons depicting the prophetMuhammad — an editorial decision that has caused thousands of Muslims toprotest worldwide, sometimes violently.

Representations of Muhammadare banned in Islam for fear that they could lead to idolatry.

AtThe Daily Illini, the student paper atthe University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the editor in chief and opinioneditor were suspended after running the Muhammad cartoons. And at theArizona Daily Wildcat andThe Daily Tar Heel, student editorialcartoonists entered into the controversy by drawing their own depictions ofMuhammad.

Keesee’s cartoons have featured Jesus being stabbedby Santa Claus, playing poker with other religious figures and in a sexualsituation.

Andrew Lent, editor in chief ofWhim, said administrators did not makeany move to censor the online publication when he met with themMonday.

”[The meeting] went well. It was kind of tense atfirst,” he said. ”I was definitely hesitant going into it. I wasvery prepared to dig in and absolutely refuse any point they made forcensorship.”

Following the meeting, the university issued awritten statement affirming student press rights but also encouraging studentpublications ”to consider the tastes and sensibilities of others.”

The meeting, which went on for two hours, seemed to be more forpublic relations reasons than anything else, Lent said.

”Theycould say they talked to me, which is good,” he said. ”We need totalk to each other rather than through the media. I gave them my cell numbersaying please, here’s our pipe line, call me if you needto.”

Keesee, who draws the cartoon strip, said he originallythought he was going to be included in the meeting, but in the end, he is justhappy the university is not censoring his drawings.

”I’mreally glad that they didn’t try to censor it or make me stopdrawing,” he said. ”I admire the fact that they took time to touchbase on the issue.”

The majority of complaints received fromstudents, staff and community members about the cartoon strip have been aboutthe fact that it features Jesus as the main character, said Radford’s VicePresident for Student Affairs Norleen Pomerantz, who was in Monday’smeeting.

In one strip that angered a number of people, Jesus battlesSanta Claus over Christmas, and in the end, Santa kills Jesus. People debatedback and forth over the meaning of the cartoon on the message board beneath thecartoon on the publication’s Web site. Some said it was a symbolicmetaphor saying that Santa and commercialism have killed Jesus and the spiritualaspects of Christmas. Opponents of the strip argued that it was offensive anddisrespectful to Christianity.

Lent said that although someChristians have said they are offended because they say the cartoon attackstheir religion, more Christians have come to him telling him they enjoy thecartoon, including some of Whim’sstaff and their parents.

”My family, they love it,”Keesee said. ”Most of my family, they’re all Christian, church-goingpeople. My mom’s one of my biggest fans. She’s just like, ‘Gofor it.”’

Although there is a group of people whoregularly criticize the cartoon, Lent said the idea of a campus-wide outrage isoverblown.

”Yes, there are those people out there who areoffended, but it’s not like there’s a whole ton of them,” hesaid. ”You don’t hear from people who like the cartoon as muchbecause most people don’t send positive e-mails. They send negativee-mails when they’re upset about something.”

Keesee saidthat he has benefited from the support of his friends, family, editor in chiefand professors at the university who have encouraged him to push the limits.”Christ on Campus” is no different from any other political oreditorial cartoon in that it uses comedy to make statements, hesaid.

”I’m not trying to be a rebel,” Keesee said.”I was just drawing a ‘toon.”

Keesee said he thinksthat the scrutiny over his cartoon has been more calculated since the Muhammadcartoons became a hot topic.

”I started drawing these before Iknew about the Muhammad cartoons,” he said. ”I think after the[Muhammad] comics were released it made people want to look to be offended. Theylook for problems.”

by Ricky Ribeiro SPLC staff writer