The Patron Saints of Illustration
As a kid, I envied Catholics. In my mostly Irish and Italian hometown, most folks answered to the Pope. (My own religious upbringing could best be described as “haphazardly Unitarian.”) The few Masses I attended with friends filled me not with a sense of piety but with an aching sense of jealousy: Candles! Censers! Statues! Gory statues! And my favorite, the little saint cards, like trading cards for holy people.
As an adult, I still find myself drawn to Catholic swag and to its syncretic counterparts in the botanicas scattered around my neighborhood in New York. (What does it says about my childhood that my reaction to Angel Heart was “How do I get in on that religion?”) So I’ve been wondering: If I was picking an all-star “deity team” for my specific needs, who would be good at solving thorny illustration problems?
I started with Saint Lucy, patroness of, among other things, writers and stained glass workers. She is usually depicted as a lovely young woman with a pair of eyes on a dish. These, her worldly eyes, were taken from her in her typically gory martyrdom; but she can never lose her celestial eyes, which are naturally still in place. Prayers to her ask for perfect vision—a perfect prayer for the arts.
In my cartooning life, I often feel I could use somebody on my side to help find the funny. Enter Saint Vitus, patron saint of comedians. Sadly, he isn’t the best known of saints—none of the botanicas I visited had any of his promo material. But there’s nothing that says I can’t print out a picture and tape it to a candle, is there? Also: he’s the patron saint against oversleeping. Awesome.
Ekeko is a South American prosperity god with wide-open arms, a wide-open smile, and a predilection for cigarettes. His arms stay open so that you can saddle him with small representations of the things you want and need—a house, money, food—and he will bring those things to you. His mouth stays open because he needs a cigarette as regular as church. “You have to let him smoke every other week,” the lady told me before selling me a miniature Ekeko. “Or every Friday.” He comes in many different forms: little knit cap Ekeko, dressy yellow-suit Ekeko, Orson Welles Ekeko. He is always cheerful and happy. A good guy to have around. And a great guy for the team.
Well, that’s a start. Any other recommendations?