Sunday, February 15, 2009

It Came from the Bible!: You gotta start somewhere ...

I have a confession to make: I'm not a very religious person.

This might come as a surprise if you were to look at my early churchin'. I was baptized twice. I went to Sunday school. My family attended a Methodist church, and then a Catholic one. But eventually I realized I was more interested in the menudo after Mass than the Mass itself, and what would eventually be a solid agnosticism took root.

"Yeah, OK," you might be saying at this point, "but what does any of this have to do with comics?" A life in which religion played a regular (if peripheral) role tends to leave behind relics, and in my case that includes something called The Picture Bible — a version of the Catholic scripture that is essentially one giant comic book.

And that's what I want to talk about in what will hopefully be a regular feature here at the Post, asking the question; how well can comics work with such weighty, untraditional material? Of course, comics have been doing this for years, from the old Classics Illustrated to this month's issue of Comic Book Comics. And Jack Chick is infamous for bringing religion to the masses with his off-the-wall doomsday tracts.

The Picture Bible is a little different, though. First of all, it wasn't the sort of thing you could get at a comic shop or off a magazine rack; if you wanted it you had to go to your local Catholic store (today you can get it — like most things — from Amazon). And while it looks like it's been updated since the 70s, the version I have looks like a traditional Bible; a thick, hardcover book with a no-nonsense, deep red cover without any real design to speak of and no illustration.

Instead all the illustration, rendered by Andre Le Blanc, is inside and it's a lot like reading a Prince Valiant strip, with distinctly drawn characters and often impressive background detail. Le Blanc actually had his own strips, assisted Will Eisner on The Spirit and was one of the primary artists on the Brazilian line of Classics Illustrated.

The art is the obvious way the Picture Bible tries to grab younger readers, but the script by Iva Hoth helps keep them involved. Dialogue is conversational, and some detail is glossed over in favor of keeping the story rolling without sacrificing the point of the parable.

Which isn't to say I'll be preaching to anyone — I've got zero interest in that and frankly, I'm far from qualified where that's concerned. But I'm also not trying to make fun of the Bible or its teachings; it means a lot to many people, and I respect that. What I will be doing is approaching this as what, in its simplest terms, it is; a complex story presented in comics form.

And one thing to remember about the Bible, no matter what your religious background, is that it's often one hell of a story. So when I decided to take a continuing look at this 750-page comic adaptation, I wondered, "Where should I start?" And really, the answer was kind of obvious:

Next time: Nooobody listens ...

Iva Hoth, writer; Andre Le Blanc, artist


Anonymous said...

What a great blog idea! I look forward to reading your thoughts on this subject.

When I was a kid in the '60s, my father taught a high school English course on the Bible as literature. It stirred up a small bit of controversy, and it made a lot of high school students read and think.


rob! said...

To go from a Beast/Dazzler romance to Bible comics...this blog truly runs the gamut!

Ever read the treasury-sized Bible comic from DC? Fun read, even for those of an unreligious nature.

Maxo said...

Jim: Thanks for the encouraging words! And I'd bet that was an interesting class your dad taught — I'll look forward to your future thoughts!

Rob: Ha! Yeah, I didn't really give much of a transition there. I should've taken a lesson from Beast and eased into it (man, I just can't help myself!).

I never did read those Bible comics from DC — I'd love to get a look at them, though.

Lisa said...

"I have a confession to make: I'm not a very religious person."

Gasp and double gasp!