MICHAEL’S JOURNEY TOWARD HIS ARTISTIC VOCATION
“Those who perceive in themselves this kind of divine spark which is the artistic vocation … feel at the same time the obligation not to waste this talent.” – POPE ST. JOHN PAUL THE GREAT IN HIS LETTER TO ARTISTS
“Growing up, I was always artistic, and my dream was to become an animator,” shares Michael La Voy of St. James the Less Parish in La Crosse. Those dreams were cultivated growing up on a hobby farm in Necedah, the seventh of 11 children. Mike recalls his childhood fondly: “You could often find my siblings and me out in the woods on our 10-acre plot building tree forts, picking berries, making obstacle courses and always learning a new hobby.” His parents worked hard to support and homeschool their large family. A constant for the La Voys was Sunday Mass together and sometimes daily.
I was not open to the answers I was praying for. I kind of felt like God was saying, ‘I gave you a gift and you have wasted it.’
During his teen years, Mike continued to attend weekly Mass but admits that he didn’t have many positive Catholic influences among his peers. “I ventured away from the Faith,” he says, “but I always knew the Church held the answer for my emptiness.
“I think I was afraid of what a devout life would look like. I wondered, ‘Would I have any friends? Would I have any fun? Would I be miserable all the time?’”
In 2002, with the encouragement of his mom, Mike attended the La Crosse Diocesan World Youth Day pilgrimage to Toronto, Canada. On the trip, he felt camaraderie being with other Catholic teens and met a girl named Maria from La Crosse. He quickly realized his misconception of what it looked like to live a devout life. “[Maria] was virtuous. She was fun. She inspired me to change my life,” Mike explains. After some perusing and much prayer, Mike won the heart of that girl from La Crosse and the two were married in 2004.
Mike enlisted in the Air Force so he and Maria could start a family with a stable career while he sought a degree in animation. Not long after, though, doubts crept in and he decided that he would not be able to make a decent living with animation and gave up on the dream. Instead, he changed his degree to business management and intended to commit 20 years and retire from the Air Force.
Toward the end of his enlistment, Mike and Maria were expecting their first child. That, along with a series of other events, convinced them to separate from the military and move back to La Crosse, where Mike worked in the financial industry for five years. Looking back, Mike admits he hadn’t considered what God’s plan was for him.
“I started having a lot of anxiety, but wasn’t sure why. One of the reasons I think it lasted so long was because I was not open to the answers I was praying for. I kind of felt like God was saying, ‘I gave you a gift and you have wasted it,’” Mike shares. “I felt like God wanted me to use my artistic gift to glorify Him, but I had no idea how. At that time, it had been nearly a decade since I had picked up a pencil and even sketched anything. I was pretty rusty!” He made a plan to enlist in the Air National Guard, since he missed serving in the military and it would provide health benefits so he could go part-time in his current job and start freelancing art work.
As he started, Mike would take just about any small job related to art that he could get, still not feeling like he knew what he was doing. He downplayed his call to art and accepted a greater workload in the Guard, which brought with it a more stable income.
“Even though I was trying to follow what I believed God was calling me to, I was very much afraid of the financial outcome of being a full-time freelance artist. After all, ‘artist’ is the only career field I know of that is often paired with the word ‘starving.’ So, by serving in the military and freelancing in my spare time, I convinced myself that I was on the right path,” Mike says. But he couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that he was being called to more. “I knew God was calling me to trust Him, but I had a really hard time letting go.”
After several years in this state, Mike’s freelance prospects kept improving. He was called by a small Catholic publishing startup in Winona and asked to illustrate a saints coloring book entitled “Living Sparks of God,” with Maria writing the accompanying short biographies. The project gave Mike confidence, seeing his first published book.
It was his work on the coloring book that caught the attention of Philip Kosloski, a writer for Aleteia and soon-to-be founder of Voyage Comics and Publishing. Phil was looking to create a Catholic comic book about the Island of Skellig Michael—featured in “Star Wars”—and the monks who once inhabited it, incorporating also the legendary sword of St. Michael. Together, Mike and Phil, with guidance from veteran Catholic comic book artist Jim Fern, created the first issue of “Finnian and the Seven Mountains.”
“This started it all for me,” Mike says. “I finally felt that God was showing me that He wanted me to use my gift to illustrate Catholic entertainment that would inspire and nourish Catholic readers.”
At this time, Mike was encouraged by his military supervisor to apply for an upcoming position, because it would be unlikely that he would get orders after that if he didn’t. He had nine months until his current orders ended.
“Even though I was terrified, I started a nine-month novena to St. Joseph to help me start freelancing full-time. I also didn’t know how I was going to break it to Maria. She wasn’t a fan of not knowing where our next paycheck was coming from, but she could also see that God was calling me to use my gift, and trying to freelance on the side while working in the military full-time was becoming increasingly difficult with our growing family,” Mike shares. “I pondered the fear St. Joseph might have felt in taking the responsibility of marrying Mary and raising Jesus; the weight of always having to provide for his family during a time of economic uncertainty.”
Mike’s novena ended the same time his military orders did and he admits, at first, it was a rough transition. He tried many different things to keep his schedule full. The stress and pressure became overwhelming and he wanted to give up. Then, after about six months, he started to be pursued by more publishers. One job led to another and before he knew it, he began working for publishers such as TAN Books, Ascension Press, Voyage Comics and Publishing, Gracewatch Media and Catholic Heritage Curricula. Mike also joined Voyage Comics and Publishing as a partner.
Since Mike left the comfort of his steady income, he has continued to pray the prayer to St. Joseph every day. “I credit his protection and God’s providence for the successes I’ve had,” he says. He also prays to St. Therese to give him a childlike trust. “I still don’t know what God has in store for me, but right now I feel like I’m where He wants me to be, and I continue to trust in His plan and His providence.”
Recently, Mike has worked with Tom Peterson, president of Catholics Come Home, on several books, as well as Jeff and Emily Cavins on the children’s version of “The Great Adventure Bible Timeline.” The work he is most proud of is with Voyage, where he is currently working on issue #4 of the Finnian series. “I have realized that illustrating comic books is similar to animation, but I get a larger share in the creative process,” Mike explains.
“In a nutshell, I’m drawing 9-5 every day. It’s my dream come true!” he says. And before work begins for the day, he attends Mass with Maria and their five children at their parish. Their school-age children attend adjoining Providence Academy, where he and Maria teach art class each week.
The La Voys are often found participating in and leading various activities and events at St. James the Less Parish. Their boys are altar servers and Mike and Maria serve on the marriage preparation team for their parish and the diocese. They endeavor to balance family, work and offering their gifts to their parish community.
Harkening back to Pope St. John Paul II’s letter to artists, we are reminded: “Society needs artists … artists have their unique place. Obedient to their inspiration in creating works both worthwhile and beautiful, they … enrich the cultural heritage of each nation and of all humanity.”
Story and Photography by Amy Eichsteadt
Published in the May/June 2021 Catholic Life Issue