Damien book traces childhood


POSTED: Sunday, December 13, 2009

Local book publishers are always looking for projects they hope will be timely and interesting to readers, the latest being an English translation of a 1981 French comic book. But there are no superheroes involved here, only an ordinary man made extraordinary by his mission in life.

“;Father Damien: Hawai'i's Saint”; is a thoughtful book that illustrates the story of Damien's (Jozef De Veuster) childhood and journey to Kalaupapa, originally done in collaboration with the French and Belgian provinces of the Fathers of the Sacred Hearts.

Benjamin “;Buddy”; Bess and his director of publishing David DeLuca, when first made of award of the effort to canonize Damien, arranged to have lunch with Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu's Roman Catholic Church.

“;We were asking for his blessing, basically,”; said DeLuca, “;and also wanting to know if he or anybody else had any resources that could lead to a book with a younger audience in mind.”;





        Bess Press, 32 pages, $14.95

Bess Press




Silva suggested they go to the Rev. Chris Keahi, provincial superior of the Fathers of Sacred Hearts in Kaneohe, where they were given access to an extensive library dating back to the late 1800s.

In their search for a worthy Damien story, “;Buddy and I came across the French graphic biography done in the early '80s and a Japanese graphic novel in black and white. They're apparently the only two of their kind in the world, and of course written in their native languages,”; DeLuca said.

“;So rather than try to reinvent the wheel, we went on to pursue reprinting those original books. We found out that the only one that was traceable was the French book.”;

Bess Press, with the help of friends and individuals living in France, got in touch with the original publisher and procured the rights for the English translation weeks before printing began.

“;The publisher was very amenable in working with us on the project,”; Bess said. “;What we did beforehand was take the original graphics from the book, scanned and cleaned up the images using Photoshop, and with the help of a University of Hawaii academic who wishes to remain nameless, translated the French text to English as close as possible to the original.”;

THE NEXT step was to modify the book's cover, and Bess Press had a special painting in mind.

In 2006, local artist Peggy Chun, afflicted with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, began work on her portrait of Damien. The resulting painting wouldn't have come to life without the help of more than 100 elementary age students from Holy Trinity School.

The paralyzed artist was able to direct the painting with her eyes, using a computerized spell-board that transmitted instructions to the students of the Hawaii Kai school. With the guidance of teacher Shelley Mecum, the students painted more than 52,000 quarter-inch paper squares with watercolors over 18 months. (Friend and fellow artist Magdalena Hawajska from Poland flew to Hawaii to assist Chun.)

Kimi Chun, Peggy's daughter-in-law, who runs the Peggy Chun Gallery downtown, agreed to allow Bess Press to use the painting as the cover. “;We've also included an afterword in the book about the painting,”; DeLuca said.

He added that the collaborative painting has been accepted by the pope and is now in the Vatican's possession, waiting for installment in the Vatican's museum of contemporary art. “;We'll also be sending them copies of the book,”; he said.

Juxtaposing the spiritual, murallike painting on the cover, with the stylized interior illustrations of Cecile Schmitz and Klutt Mouchet was intentional, said DeLuca.

“;It's all part of a nontraditional approach of ours in an attempt to contemporize our titles and give an interesting overview of the artistic interpretation of the book.”;

Bess and DeLuca agree that “;Father Damien: Hawai'i's Saint”; should appeal not only to children, but readers of all ages.

“;Damien's story has been reborn through the canonization, and with the book reintroducing that story in classes and libraries, everyone should find it very accessible,”; DeLuca said.