Interview – Ethan Nicole, Babylon Bee Animator and Editor of Chesterton’s Gateway

The Babylon Bee guys continue to hit stride after stride! Their website’s growth has continued to make them one of the most popular Christian websites in modern culture. Now with two major book releases under their belt – How to Be a Perfect Christian and The Babylon Bee’s Guide to Wokeness – one of their editors is publishing his own project on the side.

Ethan Nicole has been an animator, illustrator, and writer for the better part of the last two decades with his name on projects as diverse as Veggie Tales and Axe Cop. He’s the host of the Audio Mullet podcast and co-hosts the weekly Babylon Bee podcast while also producing the company’s weekly animated segments on YouTube.

His newest book is Chesterton’s Gateway: 14 Essays To Get You Hooked On Chesterton, an essay collection of the great English Catholic satirist and apologist G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton has garnered new energy and attention in recent years as his essays on politics have come more clearly into focus in light of political extremism, political correctness, ideological rigidity, and late capitalist stress and anxiety. Many flock to his anti-progressive satire while others adore his anti-capitalist musing, all of which are baked into his belief in Catholic integralism. Most people flock to him as a lay-saint who has written some of the most engaging material on the core beliefs of Catholicism and several useful works of Catholic history and dogma.

Alas, as Ethan correctly points out on the back of the book, there is no perfect entry book for new Chesterton readers. Many people recommend texts like The Everlasting Man, Orthodoxy, or Heretics as a starting point; but these are all incredibly complex books that need to be read multiple times to fully understand. Chesterton’s Gateway is Ethan’s attempt to create a simple and widely accessible gateway into the works of the 20th century’s most astute cultural critic.

We at Geeks Under Grace spoke with Ethan this past weekend to discuss his thoughts on the book and learn more about his thinking process as he pulled it together!

Please tell us about your career as an animator. You’re famous for working on Veggie Tales and Axe Cop, as well as your recent work animating for the Babylon Bee. What lead you down this path?

I have actually had more success as a writer in animation than anything. I started in comics with a little-known by Eisner nominated comic series (that’s the Oscars of comics) called Chumble Spuzz. From there, I had some pitches optioned by Cartoon Network. My web comic, Axe Cop, was a little project I made where I turned things my five-year-old little brother said into comics about a cop with an axe. That one went viral and went on to become a FOX TV show and a six-volume series on Dark Horse comics. While I was working on Axe Cop, I got the job writing on VeggieTales In The House (and later Veggie Tales In The City) for Dreamworks. That was a three year job, and I wrote somewhere in the realm of 65 scripts. That led to writing some episodes for a few other shows like Teen Titans Go! and Yabba Dabba Dinosaurs. I joined the Babylon Bee as a photoshopper and writer. I was the second person the Bee ever hired. I have always had a lot of vision for the Babylon Bee growing into other mediums outside of just the articles. That started with the podcast which I host with Kyle Mann, then I created our book series “The Sacred Texts.” We played with various video formats and in the last year launched animation and more recently live comedy sketches. It has been a lot of fun being a part of the Bee’s growth. I hope to eventually do an animated series with them.

Bearded man reads "Bears Want to Kill You" while bear stares at him in background

You just published your new book Chesterton’s Gateway. What was the reason you wanted to edit this essay collection now?

I love Chesterton and mention him a lot on the Babylon Bee podcast, as well as another podcast I was doing with Doug TenNapel and Mike Nelson. Because of that I get asked all the time, “What’s the best book to read to get into Chesterton?” He’s hard to get into because he doesn’t have one easy “gateway” book. Orthodoxy is often the go-to, and that one is a tough read the first time you pick it up. I started suggesting a list of essays to people who would ask me this question. Chesterton’s greatest medium was the essay, and if you really want to enjoy him, get a good collection of essays. Once you have learned to follow him, try a full book. But you need the right essays. I was going to make these all into a PDF to give out whenever I got asked about getting into Chesterton, but as I was working on it I started adding introductions and adding footnotes. It started becoming a real book. Then I checked, and I couldn’t find a single Chesterton “primer” out there. There are tons of Chesterton collections out there, but none formatted with the point of being sort of a gateway sampler-tray. Also, there is SOME footnoted Chesterton out there, but it’s never very extensive. I wanted to make a book that was heavily footnoted so you didn’t miss anything. My book has around 400 footnotes. It’s the most “Chesterton with training wheels” book I have seen so far.

You and Kyle Mann are both famously Calvinists, and yet GK Chesterton is a famous Catholic and a critic of Calvinism (in addition to Methodism, Mormonism, Atheism, Non-Catholicism in general). What do you find insightful about him? Where do you meaningfully disagree with him?

It’s funny that I am famously a Calvinist since I am not a Calvinist, but Kyle is such a hardcore Calvinist, it probably splatters all over me when I am near him. For me, it’s how he puts things. There are plenty of concepts I agree with him on, and he is a fully original thinker. He not only makes his arguments; he makes them all his own. He uses humor, he is poetic, he doesn’t condescend. I think art is meant to show us reality in ways we never saw it before. Chesterton definitely accomplishes that.

Why do you think Chesterton has come more into focus now among Christians of all denominations than before? When did you discover him?

I’m not sure what caused it. He is quoted so much and so rarely read. I know for me it was that I had read a lot of C.S. Lewis, and I kept hearing Chesterton quoted by Lewis scholars. Anyone who loved Lewis loved Chesterton too. So that could be part of it. People who want more Lewis but different. Chesterton is very different. I found I liked him much more, and I love Lewis.

Regarding the collection itself, what essays did you choose to include in the collection? Why?

I tried to include ones that jumped out at me, especially early on in my Chesterton-consuming career. I also tried to pick essays that introduced his main concepts that he reuses throughout his writings, like paradox, wonder, humility, the symbol of the ball and the Cross. I also wanted to get some of his most famous passages in there like “Chesterton’s gate” and his analogy about the light post being torn down. I tried to put a good mix of his shorter, lighter essays from books like Tremendous Trifles to some beefy chapters from Orthodoxy that are central to a Chestertonian view of life.

Where is the best place for people to get ahold of the book?

The book is on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats. Hardcover is coming soon, as well as audiobook, which I read myself.

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

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