Rebecca West: Words & Music

The Birth of Theophilus

by Bob West



When Jere E. Frost became our preacher, he and I worked together on the Pine Hills Exhorter and upgraded it from mimeograph to offset printing. He did the "typesetting" (manually justifying, forming a straight edge of text at both margins) on an IBM Selectric typewriter as he wrote the articles, and I did the art, headlines and paste-up for the printer each week.


During the years that followed, I became a workaholic. I earned my wages as a full-time employee -- first as an advertising artist for a national insurance company, then as a graphic designer for an aerospace corporation, later as an art director for an advertising agency, and then as a freelance designer-illustrator serving Walt Disney World and other clients -- while I "earned" my salvation as a "full-time" volunteer.


During the late 1950s and early 1960s I suffered from migraine headaches, which severely handicapped my participation in family life. I had little control over that, but as my health improved with years of treatment and therapy I put myself more and more into church work.


Much of the time when I was working at the church building, I should have been home with Sylvia and our children. But by now, Sylvia had come to associate my presence with another demand on her time -- to keep the children quiet and to make sure I was "happy." She did not seem glad to see me when I came home.


Our family attended every church service, Bible class, vacation Bible school, and "gospel meeting" (our label for what other churches call "revival"). I attended church business meetings and church work days. I took my turn cleaning the church building and mowing the church lawn. I taught Bible classes, preached occasionally, wrote articles for the church newsletter and brotherhood journals, prepared visual aids, signs and advertisements for church lecture series, served as a Deacon and later as an Elder. I was a faithful member of that church. But I did not have a personal relationship with Jesus until years later.


It was in this church that Theophilus grew up.


While I was stationed in Korea, I had drawn a comic strip series that was published in Air Force base newspapers there and in Japan. When I returned to the states in 1955, some of my cartoons appeared in the local Altus, Oklahoma, newspaper, and others were distributed to Air Force newspapers by the Strategic Air Command Press Service. During that time I thought about doing a comic strip that would help spread the gospel. Ten years later it happened.


I had always been impressed by the realistic style of serial adventure comic strips like Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon, but I decided that the 4-panel stand-alone religious strip I planned to do should be in a simple style. Charles Schulz's popular Peanuts caught my eye, and no doubt influenced my thinking. But I decided that the most important use of the small space available in the cartoons would be for the dialogue and the characters' heads (for identification and facial expressions). Therefore I eliminated their bodies, except for stick-figure legs, and simple arms and hands when needed for the action.


My brother, Gaylon West, suggested the name: "Theophilus."


Lover of God.


Perfect!


And then one day while Jere Frost and I were discussing the next issue of the Pine Hills Exhorter, I told him about Theophilus and showed him a few ideas and rough sketches. He was receptive to this method of teaching and agreed to try it as a regular feature, and shared some ideas of his own for the series.


So, on February 6, 1966, Theophilus was born. The illustrations wasted no time getting readers' attention -- and response!


Most of it was favorable.



Theophilus and other characters

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