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placeholder Bishop Vigneron says farewell

Bishop Emeritus Cummins reflects
on Bishop Vigneron’s appointment

Detroit welcomes a native son as new archbishop

Cathedral food service hires grads of Kitchen of Champions' culinary training program

Cathedral interfaith prayer service for President-elect, administration

St. Bede School/Moreau High grad creates award-winning adventures of a holy hit man

Moraga parishioners put new shoes on students’ feet

Schools plan civic lessons, celebrations to observe Obama inauguration

Gaza priest: ‘We cry and nobody hears us’

Catholic clinics destroyed in Gaza; patriarch calls for peace

Catholic Relief Services pledges to continue aid to Gaza

Immigration reform advocates hopeful of success with Obama

Religious coalition urges Obama to end U.S. torture practices

Americans report religion’s influence on the decline

Guatemalan Catholics march on crime rate

Operation Rice Bowl funds delivered to nine local service organizations

Pastoral ministry schools graduate 50 lay leaders

Youth in diocese instructed on possible sex abuse

placeholder January 19, 2009   •   VOL. 47, NO. 2   •   Oakland, CA

Omar Morales, creator of The CruZader, identifies with Oakland.
photo courtesy of omar morales

St. Bede School/Moreau High grad creates
award-winning adventures of a holy hit man

Comic book hero Antonio De La Cruz, The CruZader, looks like a monk and prays like a saint..
© Omar Morales

As one of the world’s newest comic book heroes, Antonio De La Cruz has a host of remarkable attributes — he looks like a monk, prays like a saint, and fights like a ninja.

De La Cruz, known by his codename, The CruZader, also enjoys special status at The Vatican as the Church’s holy hit man.

At first glance The CruZader, depicted in long dramatic robes in richly drawn settings, looks very much like a dashing action figure. But what makes this hero interesting is his internal conflict. “It’s something all of us can identify with,” said Omar Morales, creator and writer of the comic. “He has his duty and he struggles with that duty every day.”

On the one hand, Morales explained, The CruZader wants to be loyal to the Vatican and carry out the sacred missions they give him. But he would also much rather live in a monastery and devote his life to peaceful worship.

The adventures of The CruZader recently earned Morales, a member of the Catholic Community of Pleasanton, the top prize in the Bay Area’s Comic Book Hero competition, sponsored by The CW channel. Morales’ work, which appears on his website, www.theforceproductions.com, was selected by a team of judges from the station and comic book fans who visited the CW contest website.

Hero tackles racism
and other injustices

The number one rule in writing is to write about what you know. That’s why Omar Morales chose the Catholic Church as the setting for his award-winning comic book, The CruZader.

Born and raised Catholic, Morales said it was almost instinctive for him to tap into his front-pew perspective in the Church for inspiration as he began to craft his comic creation.

“I love comics, so I decided to write a typical action/adventure story with a Catholic backdrop and I figure 20 percent of the people out there will get that and enjoy it for what it is: a comic book about a conflicted hero.”

At the same time Morales knows that the Catholic setting of his comic is likely to bring criticism. “My guess is 40 percent of people will hate it and dismiss it as ‘way too Catholic.’ The remaining 40 percent will be more pious and criticize it as ‘too racy, too violent’ or ‘not Christian enough.’ That’s OK with me because you can’t please everyone all the time.”

Morales infused the main character, The CruZader, with the spirit of his late uncle, a Jesuit priest whom he described as a generous and pious man. Then he added the character traits that are what he called “amalgams of classic character archetypes.”

The CruZader is “part exorcist, part Jedi, part 007 and part Van Helsing.”

In his battle to fight evil The CruZader arms himself with prayer and various tools including a powerful lance known as the Spear of Christ, which the comic hero is seen using in an online story posted on the website, theforceproductions.com. “To Catch a Clan,” shows The CruZader fighting members of the Ku Klux Klan, enemies of the Church and African Americans, who are about to kill a black man.

The CruZader fights the Ku Klux Klan in “To Catch a Clan.”
© Omar Morales
To say that Morales was thrilled when he received the phone call from CW is an understatement. Though confident that the comic had the best concept and the best drawings among all those competing, Morales said that when the congratulatory phone call finally came after several weeks of waiting it both validated his work and left him feeling humble. “I remember thanking God in a private moment after it all sank in,” he said.

The divine and the artistic have been recurring themes throughout Morales’ life. Born in Oakland, he was exposed to the Church since birth. “My parents came from Mexico and they are very devout,” he said, adding that his parents passed on their faith to their children. “They sacrificed a lot to send me to Catholic schools so that I could have a solid, spiritual education.”

Morales said that his now-deceased uncle, Ezekiel Morales, a Jesuit priest who served in Mexico and at St. Louis Bertrand Church in Oakland, greatly influenced The CruZader character. Although he never became an altar server, Morales said that when his uncle, whom he called “Tio Rey,” presided at Mass for the family he was asked to serve at the altar with his brother and cousins.

“What an honor that was,” he recalled. Tio Rey was “a strict Catholic, as you can imagine,” he added. “He really loved life and community and was a shining example of our faith. His spirit is very much alive in The CruZader — particularly the more pious aspects of the character.”

Comics also shaped the life of the young Morales who grew up in Hayward. He learned English by watching TV reruns of Ultraman and Spiderman and, over time, became interested in comic books featuring the likes of Captain America, Batman and the Wolverine.

While attending St. Bede School in Hayward in the 1980s, Morales was into drawing comics like other boys in his classes. “I remember folding binder paper in half, stapling the spine and drawing and writing my own comics,” he said.

Morales said he began to put more effort into writing thanks to “many great teachers” who encouraged him to write and “write purely from my imagination and my heart.”

One of those teachers was Anne Pearce, his 8th grade teacher at St. Bede. “I remember so clearly that Mrs. Pearce read aloud one of my science fiction stories about aliens landing at St. Bede and she said, ‘Now this is the descriptive work of a real fiction writer,’ and then she revealed my name to the class. That’s when I really caught the bug for writing as opposed to drawing.”

Two teachers at Hayward’s Moreau Catholic High School also helped the future comic creator hone his writing skills. Kathe Weltcheck, an English teacher, encouraged him to listen to his heart and not be afraid to show sensitivity in his writing.

“She really thought it was liberating to bare it all, throw your soul into your writing,” he said. And Marek Breiger, who taught journalism, helped him to embrace “tight, crisp writing.”

At California State University Hayward, Morales, a mass communications major, branched out into the school’s magazine, radio and TV station and his zeal for comics faded. “I really lost interest and abandoned comics as a hobby.”

That estrangement did not last for long. After college Morales renewed his interest in comics through eBay. “I bought back all the comics I lost or sold over the years,” he said.

Over the past two years he has taken his hobby forward by developing his own comics. His first effort did not advance very far, but his next comic, The CruZader, became a fully developed character with a storyline. He has since posted the comic as a kind of web comic at web sites like Drunk Duck and Smack Jeeves.

“I have a few dozen self-published copies of the first edition of The CruZader available for sale,” he said. “But my real goal is to mass produce it as a graphic novel with a publisher — any publisher.”

Morales, who owns the copyright to The CruZader, oversees a creative team made up of freelancers who are specialists in inking, coloring and lettering, who help bring his vision to life. Team members take their cue from Morales who creates and develops the narrative.

“I spend a lot of time gestating and creating the story in my head, then I commit the story to paper and then to my scriptwriting software,” he said.

“Once I’ve edited and re-edited, I pencil out some very crude pages that my artists can use as a guide. I’m very particular about every panel on every page.”

The CruZader meets with the Pope..
© Omar Morales

While holding down a full-time job as a business manager at Daymon Worldwide, Morales, who is married and the father of two young children, has overseen the completion of the first three issues of The CruZader. He has also written issues four through six, which are now being penciled and inked by his creative team. The artwork will then be colored and lettered, a process that is expected to be completed later this year.

If he were to write the next chapter of his life, Morales’ story arc would take him into the comic book industry. “I would love to work in comic books as a full-time career someday. My dream would be to work for Marvel Comics (home of Morales’ all-time hero, Captain America), out of their Manhattan offices.”

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