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LDS canon to enter comic-book realm

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The LDS Church canon of scripture, The Book of Mormon, has inspired many musical, dramatic and literary projects, and last year was adapted as a commercial theatrical film, "The Book of Mormon Movie, Vol. 1: The Journey."

But the latest adaptation is raising a few eyebrows, the Comic Book of Mormon, if you will.

Actually, the comic in question is titled "The Golden Plates: The Sword of Laban and the Tree of Life" and is the first in a series of ambitious illustrated adaptations of stories from the Book of Mormon. It has been written, illustrated and lettered by Michael Allred, who most recently worked for Marvel Comics, which is the comic-book industry's leader.

After his monthly "X-Statix" series was canceled by Marvel, Allred felt that he finally had time to work on "Golden Plates," which he calls his "dream project."

"I'm aware that there are a lot of people who think I'm crazy for doing this," Allred said by phone from his Lakeside, Ore., home and art studio. "But all I can say to them is, try to keep an open mind. This is something that I really believe in — something that means more to me than anything I've ever done."

"The Golden Plates" is the first of a dozen planned books in the series, each 64-page full-color volume to be priced at $7.99. They are scheduled to arrive in comics stores next Wednesday (although one Utah store will have them today; see story on Page W12).

This is obviously something very different for Allred, who cut his teeth by drawing such iconic comic characters as Spider-Man, Superman and the X-Men but who gained personal prominence with his "Madman" comic-book series (which featured a "cameo" by one of the Three Nephites!).

But he said this series is also going to be very different from what people might expect. Don't look for something along the lines of the old "Classics Illustrated" comics. "The Golden Plates" is more akin to " 'It's a Wonderful Life' meets 'Conan the Barbarian,' " according to Allred.

Most important for Allred, it's also very faithful to the source material. "There's no way I would ever take liberty with these stories. And at the same time, I believe they should be told with the passion and excitement that's already in there." He added that, by motion-picture standards, the content of the book is, at most, on a PG-13 level.

"The Golden Plates" is also a family project, as Allred worked on the project with his wife, Laura, a professional comic colorist. "I've even asked my children for their input. I want them to be involved with something that's this huge — and not just to me."

Allred describes himself as a faithful member of the LDS Church. "I'm in good standing. I really believe in the church and what it stands for. That's why this project is such a personal one for me, why it means so much to me."

Also, he said he has tried to make church leaders aware of the project, having sent promotional materials and his series "pitch" to church headquarters in Salt Lake City. "The word I got back was that the church does not endorse such projects. But I didn't hear anything about them being displeased with it either."

He added with a laugh, "They did contact my bishop, though."

Those who have already seen the book are impressed. Doug Dial, who owns Fantasy Rules Comics in Pleasant Grove, said the series "is truly a wonderful thing to behold. I was amazed at how cool something that sacred could be."

Professional comic-book artist Ryan Ottley ("Invincible"), who lives in South Salt Lake, is also blown away by "The Golden Plates." "Mike is such a fantastic artist. And the fact that he's willing to take such a huge leap of faith and do something like this only makes me respect him even more."

As far as whether "The Golden Plates" will sell, comics-store owners have seen their customer pre-orders increase as word of mouth about the project has spread. Dial said he expects to sell out of his initial order of 500 copies quickly, and Dave Landa of Dr. Volts Comic Connection in Salt Lake City, said he has ordered only 40 copies, and is hoping he "can keep some copies in the store. I'm already getting worried that I might not have ordered enough."

To Allred, the fact that people are already talking about the project makes it a huge success. "Of course, I'd be lying if I said I didn't want this to sell like hotcakes. I'd love for it to reach thousands of people, and not just those who are already of the faith.

"I would love to be able to spread the word about the church and what I know in my heart to be the true gospel. And the fact that I may be able to do that with my art makes me truly blessed."

For more information on "The Golden Plates," go to Allred's personal Web site, www.aaapop.com.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com