God is Non-Binary: reportage artist Sanika Pawde turns a strange church sign into a thought provoking comic

God is Non-Binary: reportage artist Sanika Pawde turns a strange church sign into a thought provoking comic

At one time or another, we have all seen something unusual out of the corner of our eyes, only to be whisked away by life before we can find out more. But for reportage artist, illustrator and cartoonist Sanika Phawde, the urge to learn more about an unusual church sign was too powerful to resist. And he sent her on a journey to meet her creator.

The sign in question was intertwined with the statement God is Non-Binary, which is also the title Sanika gave to her comic strip about her experience of seeing him. For the First Baptist Church in Massachusetts, this is an exciting message, so it’s no wonder it compelled the curious illustrator to find out more.

“I love the sign outside the church,” she explains. “I walk by him every day, and every day he makes me laugh or think or both. The first time I saw him was the day we moved here, and he said ‘God is Non-Binary’, and it made me feel. I might be all right after all in Providence.”

The strange wording sparked a flurry of questions in the Rhode Island School of Design teacher’s mind. Over several months, she thought about who exactly did it, where they got their ideas and how they organized their signature messages. Then, almost miraculously, it sounds like she found out. The creator of the mysterious sign was none other than Pastor Jamie Washam, who was kind enough to be interviewed by Sanika.

The humor is seen as a result of the interviews as a story of thought, brilliantly expressed about the community. Over the course of 21 panels, Pastor Jamie reveals the thought processes behind his signature church messages and shares that humor is sometimes the best way to spark conversation about complex topics.

Take the original sign, for example. Although Non-Binary God could be seen as a touchstone for anger discourse, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Pastor Jamie reveals that she received plenty of heart-warming compliments and only one criticism. And in her usual saintly way, she answered this complaint kindly in order to have a further discussion.

And as Sanika discovered during her interview, the reach of church signs went beyond the traditional congregation. She learned from Pastor Jamie that one viewer got in touch to say how positive it was to see ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ on church signs everywhere and that it made her feel at home.

It’s a sentiment echoed by the comic’s creator herself. “I love how drawing on location and reporting through comics teaches me to notice and love my environment and community more,” she reveals. “I like being a reportage artist because it helps me feel connected to my new city.”

To read the full comic, which includes revelations about how the signs are made, the lengths Pastor Jamie goes to keep them, and where she gets her inspiration, head over to Sanika’s website.

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