SALT LAKE CITY — Most Mormons only hear about the spiritual side of Latter-day Saint missions from talks over the pulpit, and most non-Mormons may only know what they've seen in "The Book of Mormon" musical. Many returned missionaries, however, could tell you there was much more to their missions than that.
In that spirit, LDS illustrator Mike Laughead decided to create a comic anthology that tells about the more ridiculous and sometimes sad aspects of missions, written and drawn by returned missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This has come together as the book "Served: A Missionary Comics Anthology," which launched on Kickstarter Tuesday, May 8.
Laughead started the project with a story from his mission to South America when a drunk man slapped the glasses off his and his companion's faces. Laughead is the program coordinator of illustration at the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio and has made comics in the past, so he drew up his funny mission story. He then got some of his BYU-Idaho college friends involved in drawing their weird mission experiences as well.
From there, Laughead took to Twitter. It was here that he found Theric Jepson, a high school English teacher in California who's edited LDS-related comic books. Jepson got excited about the project and assumed the role of editor. He became the organizational force behind "Served," making sure people heard about it and turned in their stories.
As word spread, Laughead and Jepson ended up with 28 contributors to the anthology. With the Kickstarter campaign, they've already hit their $15,000 goal to cover the cost of printing and distribution — thanks to a single donor who took special interest.
Any additional funding will go toward paying the contributing artists and possibly funding a scholarship for an LDS art student.
"We didn't want it to be a for-profit thing," Laughead said.
Laughead remembers attending BYU-Idaho fresh off his mission and not knowing much about art. He said it felt so validating to win an illustration competition back then. If possible, he would like to extend that same encouragement to another young adult.
The hope is "Served" will draw attention from both those in and out of the church.
"For people who are unfamiliar with missionaries, I'm hoping this will humanize us," Laughead said. "Instead of being a scary person who wants to talk about Jesus at them, they'll see we're still people."
He also hopes some of the contributing artists' fans will be interested in purchasing the book, and as a result, learn more about the artists' personal lives.
The anthology's stories range from funny to moving to heartbreaking — one artist's story tells of an old mission companion who was murdered during their mission after they were companions. Laughead said the only limit they set was they didn't want stories about sex scandals. They wanted the majority of the comics to be relatable, to represent what happens to most missionaries.
"We didn't want to make it so it felt like someone had to be super pro toward their view of the church or anti-Mormon," Laughead said. "We wanted to be open to people's experience as missionaries."Comment on this story
It's a little more irreverent than "The Friend," for example — though Brad Teare, the art director at "The Friend," is one of the contributors. Other well-known contributors include Jake Parker and Anthony Holden. Holden's comic contains what Laughead called the "raciest" part of the book: a bare behind. (That story involves someone urinating in public.)
They tried hard to represent a diverse group of people, Jepson said. The contributors' stories are roughly two-thirds from men and the remaining from women, for example. In this 200-page book, they sought to cover the variety of what missionaries experience.
"The main thrust was to capture the everyday aspects of what it's like, including the humor and sadness," Jepson said. "If you don't know that's part of the story, you don't know the story."