Rich Melheim brings Martin Luther’s story to life
by Clint Riese, Correspondent
Though it’s tempting to turn a blind eye to declining church attendance and the absence of parents sharing the word with their children, Rich Melheim, ’81, knows the troubling statistics by heart. Since leaving the pulpit for a specialized ministry call with the ELCA nearly 25 years ago, the ordained minister, entrepreneur and author has made it his business to fight this detachment with faith-building tools for families.
With 25 books, 24 albums and hundreds of skits under his belt, the Stillwater, Minn., resident has turned his focus to no less than the father of the Lutheran church. In celebration of next year’s 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Melheim’s Christian education publishing company, Faith Inkubators, recently released an e-book version of “Luther: The Graphic Novel.” The print version along with a series of companion pieces to help families and congregations share Martin Luther’s story and connect with his teachings are due out in November.
While references to Luther are ubiquitous, Melheim took on the subject because he feels Luther’s significance is largely lost on the world.
“I’d guess the vast majority of the 900 million Protestants have no clue about the origin of their faith,” he says. “In the U.S., if you ask people about Martin Luther, would nine out of 10 think he was an African-American civil rights leader?”
The novel has been a long time coming for Melheim, who developed the concept and wrote the first third of it while marketing the 2003 major motion picture Luther. A sponsor shelved the book at that time, which is proving to be a blessing in disguise: the Reformation anniversary and the surge of interest in graphic novels has set the stage for a superhero of biblical association. This July, the project gained steam as Melheim introduced the book to thousands of fans of the genre from the stage of the Comic-Con International convention in San Diego. As the November print release nears, distribution rights have been sold in languages that will bring Luther’s story around the globe once again.
The book’s interest doesn’t surprise the author, given the singular subject. Luther tells of the young German’s transformation from law student to monk and from professor to rebel with a cause, all while weaving in the storylines from across Europe that aligned to spark the Reformation.
“One solitary monk nailed an objection to a church door and, with it, ushered the Medieval Era out and the Modern Era in, changing the course of history forever,” Melheim says. “Even if it were fiction, it’d be a great story.”
Using the text from the 72-page novel and Melheim’s connections to the popular band Lost and Found, Faith Inkubators is doubling down on the project with Luther: The Musical, a 24-song rock opera to be released on Easter complete with sheet music and set designs in the style of a Marvel comic.
“We’re hoping theaters large and small, amateur and professional, will make a big deal out of October 2017,” says Melheim, who describes the production as a mixture of Hamilton, Godspell and Monty Python. “We can make a huge splash for what Luther did for the world.”
Rounding out the project, housed at lutherstudy.com, is a new cross-generational Small Catechism series (themed “This is most certainly fun!”), giant table-top coloring posters designed to foster family conversations and coloring books featuring art from the graphic novel and musical.
The comprehensive approach was deliberate. After all, Melheim says, it’s an every-half-millennium opportunity.
“We have a huge story that literally changed the world, everything from human rights to civil rights,” he says. “There’s just so many huge things that people don’t even know they’re benefitting from today because of what happened 500 years ago when Luther ‘nailed’ it.”