The Bible and Graphic Novels: A Review and Interview with the Authors of "Marked" and "Megillat Esther"
I must admit at the outset that I was never one of those comic geeks. I never waited outside our local drug store for the new issue of Superman or Batman to arrive. If someone gave me a comic book to look at, I read it, but it was never an obsession or even a hobby. Recently, though, all that changed. I have taught a course on Religion and Popular Culture for a while now, and my co-teachers and I decided that it was finally time to acknowledge the portrayal of religion in comic books and other media (films and television) based on comics. So I began to investigate comics, mostly graphic novels.
What I found startled me. I found, among others, a Batman graphic novel that dealt with the soul ; an X-Men story dealing with the misuse of Scripture in furthering hatred of the Other; the story of a foul-mouthed Preacher possessed by the offspring of an angel and a demon seeking God to call him to account for His actions; and a massively detailed novel titled Kingdom Come that depicts a clash between superhero generations prior to an apocalyptic event, all told through the prophetic visions of a minister. Reading these works made me appreciate the comments of Greg Garrett, who writes,
As people of faith become more comfortable creating art—and as artists of all sorts become more comfortable including spiritual elements in film, music, and comics—such [religious] references are bound to show up. And this trend makes comic books—where good and evil, right and wrong, justice, mercy, and the power of love have long been important themes—a terrific place to look for revelation.
As such, you can imagine my surprise when I heard that two—not one, but two—graphic novels were to be published right before the National AAR/SBL Meeting in Philadelphia (November 2005). I decided that not only must I have them, but also that I must share them with other folks like me, folks who might be skeptical about comic books and especially about retelling stories from the Bible in comic form.
The two graphic novels I will introduce below, viz., Steve Ross' Marked and JT Waldman's Megillat Esther, represent significant achievements not only in the field of comic art, but also in biblical interpretation. In what follows, I will provide a brief introduction to both graphic novels as a prelude to an extended interview with their creators. These interviews were conducted via e-mail in December 2005, and address many topics central to the interpretation of the novels, such as religious and artistic influences, the function of these graphic novels, and the relationship between religion and popular culture more generally.
Steve Ross' Marked is a black-and-white retelling of the Gospel of Mark that is set in a bleak urban landscape reminiscent of the cult film, Escape from New York. New Testament scholars have long noted the oddity of Mark's Jesus, i.e., that he seems to be the strangest of all the Gospel Jesuses, and Ross certainly buttresses that notion. His Jesus is shown to us first as a construction worker in a high-rise building project. After hearing John the Baptist, a dumpster-diving troglodyte of a man, on the radio, Jesus runs to the river to be baptized by him. After being rescued from the waters by a pigeon, Jesus returns home, shaves his hair and beard, dons a nondescript white robe, and sets out on his ill-defined mission.
Throughout his ministry, this Jesus never reveals that he knows what he is doing or that he has an idea of his destiny. In this, Ross' Jesus differs from the Jesus in Mark, but the choice is utterly appropriate in Marked. Ross brilliantly portrays a city in the throes of colonial and military oppression; in that setting, it is no wonder that so many of the characters have an aimless quality about them. Only those in power, viz., the military, the Temple establishment, and the media, seem to be cognizant of the impact of their actions. For example, Jesus' first encounter after his makeover is with an agent in a stretch limo, who pledges that with his help, Jesus will go right to the top and be able to accomplish all his career goals (Ross' rendering of the temptation in the desert). Contrast this scene with Jesus' reaction after healing a leper with a kiss, pictured below.
This is a Jesus who ambiguously moves from crisis to healing to calling without much dialogue at all, let alone a clear sense of his final destination. As such, Ross portrays Jesus as a victim of the colonial machine, but a victim that has the last laugh. Jesus has been obsessed with death (usually symbolized by a blackbird) from the outset of his public career, and this emphasis is seen when Magdalene anoints him in front of Judas. Jesus appears to Judas with a skull for a face, and after Judas realizes that Jesus will soon die, he runs off to betray him. Jesus prepares the Last Supper with real food, not the pre-processed machine food everyone else eats, and is then arrested.
Ross' book shines in the Passion narrative section, beginning with the showing of Jesus beaten and chained in a prison cell—with imagery not unlike that shown on the news during the Iraqi prisoner scandal—and continuing with shadowed deliberations concerning the death penalty for the prisoner Jesus. Pilate emerges as a media CEO who speaks to Herod through closed-circuit moveable cameras, and it is Pilate's idea to stage the execution as a Reality-TV event, complete with "American Idol" style voting for which prisoner to release. The crucifixion itself is dark and dreary, with shades of Pink Floyd's The Wall present in the visual imagery. Jesus cries to God as seven cameras encircle his naked body; when he dies, all the TV screens explode as Pilate watches from his control room. After Joseph of Arimathea buries Jesus in a self-storage locker, his mother Mary dresses in black and takes Jesus' suit in which to bury him properly. When she arrives at the locker, she finds a large clown dressed like Pagliacci standing inside the locker, but no Jesus. As the clown slowly folds Jesus' old robe like a flag at a military funeral, he speaks the final lines in the book, "It's simple. Your son died. He was buried. And now he's alive." Following this, Jesus' mother walks outside to find a sunflower growing out of the carcass of a dead blackbird, the novel's symbol of death.
Ross' interpretation of the Gospel of Mark is minimalist in that there is little dialogue directly borrowed from the Gospel, and unlettered art dominates the book. Most of the speech serves to compliment the metropolitan setting in which individualism and realness have been pushed to the side as collectivism and consumerism have been introduced by those in power as the best things for the masses. For some, however, the setting of the story and other modern interpolations may prove troubling. In a recent review, David G. Burke mulls over the parallel processes of midrash and rendering biblical literature into comic form, and writes:
It is really more a matter of drawing out what is implicit already within the text itself (hidden though it may be in print text) and bringing it into explicit form in the visualized medium. This process of "thinking into" the text must, of course, be done with care and restraint and not in ways that will introduce elements that are not implicit to the text or its historical context. There are examples of midrash that demonstrate both approaches. And, of course, the development of guidelines for this process is also very significant, so that there can be constraints and parameters that will help rule out the introduction of unwarranted elements. It is one thing to "think into" a narrative text's implied information in the attempt to transfer that text into a visual medium, but to attempt this while also changing the POV ratchets up the likelihood of overreaching in the inventiveness.
Burke may or may not take issue with many of Ross' "introduction of unwarranted elements," but I, for one, found they enhanced the storytelling. Transplanting a biblical narrative into another medium that contains elements foreign to the biblical text is often a risky proposition, exemplified in my mind by 1973's Godspell, but Ross manages to make the Gospel of Mark seem more alive and applicable to modern audiences by doing so. In my opinion, his work represents a watershed moment in the intersection of the Bible and popular culture.
If Ross' Marked represents a minimalist approach to rendering a biblical text into a visual medium, JT Waldman's Megillat Esther is situated at the opposite extreme. Waldman's seven year labor of love contains not only the complete Hebrew text of Esther exquisitely lettered, but also his English translation with incredibly detailed accompanying illustrations, rabbinic endnotes, and even an academic bibliography. Whereas Ross' style is sparse and darkly hued, Waldman's black and white drawings are filled with light and immaculate meticulousness.
This graphic novel is not a modern adaptation of the biblical book of Esther, as Ross did to Mark, but rather Waldman's own vision of Esther and the rabbinic interpretation thereof. As such, Megillat Esther represents not so much a reinterpreted Bible, but rather a visual midrash of Esther.
However, Waldman's work is not simply a retelling of Esther. He includes visually rendered excerpts from the Bavli (i-v), the Greek translation of Esther (30-35), and Deuteronomy 31.18 (59), as well as several scenes apparently of his own devising. All of these scenes are labeled as interludes, and Waldman provides comments on them at the end of his book. Also included at the back of the novel are citations from rabbinic texts, although at times the citations themselves can be difficult to locate. The most obvious formal aspect of Waldman's work is that at the beginning of chapter 6, the text in the book is turned upside down, so that the reader must physically turn the book over in order to keep reading.
These textual, visual, and formal innovations aside, Waldman's book represents a new breed of biblical work: more than a simple illuminated manuscript, he provides a visually interpreted translation of Esther with commentary. To my knowledge, nothing like this has ever been created, and it comes as no surprise that it took Waldman seven years to complete the project.
With these introductory comments behind us, we can now move to the second part of this essay: the only interview thus far that includes both Ross and Waldman and that deals specifically with issues of biblical interpretation.
DC: Can you both comment briefly on your religious background, how you might define your religious practice now, and how this may have influenced your approach to/interpretation of these stories? Steve, in the interview with Emergent UK Media Arts, posted on the Marked website, you responded to a similar question, but here I'd like to hear more about how your affiliation affected some of the choices you made in the book. I'm especially curious as to how both of you regard the Bible/Tanakh in your religious practice.
SR: I'm an Episcopalian attending St. Bartholomew's Church in New York City. This is the only church I've been a member of since returning to the Church as an adult and their philosophy had a large part to play in the choices I made in the book. In a nutshell, it's the willingness to accept uncertainty and questions, instead of scrambling for iron clad answers and obediently towing the party line. Because of this philosophy, I feel that questions are just as valuable as answers, and was therefore comfortable portraying biblical events in a "what if" frame of mind, rather than with a "This is the way it was" certainty. I like to think that my particular flavor of Episcopalianism has a tradition of tolerance in a pluralistic world. Detractors view it as watered down or "revisionist" theology but I would argue that it accurately reflects Jesus' mandate of Love over Law. That became one of the main themes in my book; i.e., the tendency for religions of any kind to ossify over time into a punitive, heartless codex, and the timeless struggle to break through that rigidity with love and compassion.
JTW: I am the third generation of Eastern European Jewish immigrants who left the old world in search of prosperity. My upbringing was gloriously typical of Jewish kids growing up in the 'burbs in the 80s. I went to a Reform Supplementary Hebrew School twice a week until my Bar Mitzvah and celebrated my nominal Jewish education with a big party. I was unaffiliated and quite disinterested with Judaism until a transformative experience in Spain motivated me to explore my heritage. Megillat Esther was conceived as a vehicle to help me "get to know" my religion and culture. Living in Israel for eighteen months and studying at a yeshiva for a year filled in a lot of the blanks. While working as a Hebrew School teacher and Judaic tutor for three years, I further developed that identity in a professional capacity. I don't identify with any specific denomination of Judaism and find more enjoyment in being flexible enough to affiliate with different communities. I fall under the "Progressive" branch of the religious spectrum, but I'm not too big into labels. The rabbinic notion that paradoxes are guideposts to wisdom navigates my Jewish practice. I celebrate or observe the holidays according to a strict concoction of whim and tradition. I think that Megillat Esther flows from that impulse.
DC: I'm curious as to what other comic artists you would cite as influences on your work. Are there certain comic artists, letterers, or authors that have shaped your style? Other popular culture influences you'd like to mention?
SR: 1. Stan Lee and his contemporaries, who broke new ground by investing previously bland comic book superheroes with surprisingly subtle psychological back stories.
2. Robert Crumb for his fearlessness and scatological leanings. Unfortunately, some of my more scatological panels were edited out the final version of Marked.
3. David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino for bringing non-linear narratives back in vogue (or at least not box office poison).
4. Max Beckman and Georg Grosz, specifically the work they did describing the decadence of Weimar Germany on the eve of World War II.
JTW: As a kid I was really into comic book artists: Art Adams, John Byrne, and Jim Lee. I liked their sense of pacing, sequence, and attention to detail. As my taste matured I started gravitating toward indie artists like Steve Rude, Teddy Kristiansen, Frank Miller, the Pander Brothers and Moebius. In college I focused on sculpture and painting; I quickly became fascinated with Egon Schiele, Rene Mackintosh, and the whole Bauhaus aesthetic. In sculpture, I gravitated toward Rodin, Eva Hesse, and eventually Duchamp. Along the way other artists began to captivate me and I found myself incorporating their styles: Aubrey Beardsley, Otto Dix, and Frantisek Kupka all caught my imagination.
DC: I know of at least two teachers (including myself) who are planning to use either one or both of your works in the classroom soon. Can you all comment on what you see as the pedagogical value of your works? How can you imagine professors or even lay religious leaders using your books profitably in an educational setting? JT, on your website you include a link to the National Association of Comics Art Educators, and there are several college syllabi listed therein. However, I don't see any syllabi that focus on religious or biblical studies. Since this article will be published in one of the publications of the Society of Biblical Literature, I'm especially curious in your suggestions for how teachers of religion/Bible can use your works. I know that interested readers will profit from the rabbinic citations, interludes, and lotus points that are included in Megillat Esther. Steve, did you consider including footnotes like these?
SR: I was in fact until recently a very illiterate Christian. As a matter of course, I'd been hearing the Gospel lessons in their fragmented serial form every Sunday for years, but had never seriously studied Mark as a single piece of writing until I started work on the book. My discovery of the mighty gaps in my firsthand knowledge of the Gospels informed my choice to not use footnotes. One of my goals was to provoke readers in such a way that they would feel compelled to go back to the source and read it for themselves. It's important to note that I'm not proselytizing. I'm not asking people to believe it, just read it. I thought it would be interesting to turn the standard source/reference prototype on its head and make the gospel of Mark a reference to help readers get through my book.
JTW: A friend of mine taught high-functioning autistic students to decode math word problems using comic book sequences to help them visualize and calculate their answers. The show and tell of images and text enabled them to visualize conceptual objects and then manipulate data. Clearly using comics and this differentiated approach is successful for teaching to multiple intelligences and adaptable to any pedagogical model. In particular, read a passage from the Vulgate version of the Book of Esther and then JPS' version, and then the corresponding page in Megillat Esther. The visual cues and word play combined with the variety of translations raise many questions. Start there, and this process will eventually lead to the question, "How does this relate to me?" The discussion and sharing of this answer is the joy of text study.
DC: What do you see as the importance of this form to the dissemination of the message you want to promulgate? That is, could you have told this same story in an aniconic form? Are there any disadvantages to the graphic novel form?
SR: For me the graphic novel form was tailor made for the message I wanted to get out. For all its depth and insight, the New Testament obstinately refuses to describe what Jesus looked like. This omission is so glaring that it must be deliberate. My teenage rejection of Christianity had a lot to do with my rejection of the cloyingly saccharine image of Christ I grew up with in Texas: white skin, long hair, beard, sometimes even blue-eyed, manly but "sensitive", etc. etc. The graphic novel format is a medium where I can mess around with people's preconceptions of what Jesus looks like. Also, graphic novels (I include comic books here) can get away with far more unacceptable and inappropriate content than most other mediums. If the content is deemed to dangerous or subversive by societal norms, advocates can deflect censorship by playing the "hey, lighten up, it's just a comic book" finesse. But just like inadmissible court testimony that is supposedly "stricken from the record," images are not so easily discarded from the brain. They lodge there in the subconscious and percolate until later, maybe even years, the reader has softened and become a more receptive to the ideas presented. I think [Robert] Crumb [b. 1943] is a classic example of this process. He pretty much horrified the status quo when he first came out, but now he's lionized.
JTW: I couldn't have told the story of Esther any other way. I live my life with diagrams, sketches, maps, and doodles to help me figure out my place in the world. I never thought about disseminating any message beyond the ineffable need to create. I chose to illustrate a holy text, because I thought this particular tale would make a cool comic book. I felt comfortable with the secular tone and Diaspora setting. The story also serves a ritual function connected to a holiday that is celebrated through masquerade, debauchery and alms to the poor. The bevy of mixed messages sent through the midrash and oral law of Judaism about the Book of Esther necessitated the use of images. My goal was to illustrate the wealth of possible meanings found in the Bible, and to fulfill a childhood dream to make comic books.
DC: Both of your graphic novels have been published by religiously-oriented publishers (Jewish Publication Society and Seabury Press). Do you hope/predict that other, non-sectarian publishers will recognize the value of such work and publish them?
SR: I initially signed on to the project with a secular, even mercenary, mindset: Write the story. Draw the pictures. Get paid. What I didn't expect was that the process would turn into a surprisingly personal faith journey. I think religious publishers may be more comfortable with that scenario, that their writer/artist might go wandering off into a heart of darkness, stumble about, perhaps even get a little lost, but that the journey is part of the process.
JTW: I believe this is called niche marketing; a sound and reasonable business plan that I'm told is better suited for today's market. I think the growing interest in graphic novels as a literary genre will influence non-sectarian publishers more than religious values. I think in this case the market trumps the message.
DC: In his 2003 book Secular Steeples: Popular Culture and the Religious Imagination, Conrad Ostwalt claims that secularization has made a shift in religious authority necessary. He writes, "Religious concerns find expression in other cultural forms so that cultural products perceived to be secular can carry authentic and meaningful religious content and deal with sacred concerns." He continues, "We can think about literature, film, music, art, and other cultural products . . . as vehicles that carry and transport our religious longings, rituals, and beliefs. . . . It might be that in our postmodern context, with shifting authority structures, popular cultural expression of religiosity is more important, more available, and more powerful than traditional expressions of religious truth." Do you agree with his claims? If so, do you see your work as contributing to this trend of popular culture media carrying some sort of religious truth? Do you consider this trend a negative one? If so, why?
SR: I'm frankly wary of pop religion. Pop culture is mostly about "What's in it for me," whereas true religion (I'm speaking specifically of my experiences with Christianity here) can be summed up as "What's in it for the stranger next to me." Religion is at its most powerful when it brings together people who may not be of like mind, but agree that all other differences can be at least temporarily put aside in deference to communion. Pop culture seems to advocate the opposite: comfort and familiarity at the expense of communion, herd mentality, aestheticizing conformity, pandering to the lowest common denominator, establishing identity by what you consume. I may be cutting off my own nose here, but I think popularized religion only works when there is a tradition to measure it against. Otherwise, we find ourselves with lots of Religion Lite, i.e., annoying, self -centered people gushing about how "spiritual" they are, totally oblivious to the needs of others.
JTW: The current zeitgeist of religiously bent comics is more a testament to the timeless relevance of these stories than some popular trend. People have told these tales for millennia; they change style and content like whisper down the lane. Once frescoes served that purpose, later stained glass, and now comics and film. I look forward to interactive hyperlinked midrash that cross-reference with Hindu mythology and American Indian folklore! How's that for, "traditional expressions of religious truth?!"
DC: In the 20th and 21st century, public consumption of religious media and interest in religion in the public square has increased greatly. Do you feel your works, like popular Christmas specials on TV or widely publicized Bible films like Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ might affect the long-standing traditions in both Judaism and Christianity of public reading or performance of the texts you retell? I'm thinking specifically here of Passion plays or Purim Festivals.
SR: Public reading or performances (live and film) fulfill the need for public, communal catharsis. Reading to oneself, or viewing art fulfills something more solitary, contemplative or meditative. Both venues are necessary and I don't think one will ever replace the other.
JTW: I would love to walk into a space where the Megillah is being read and see a costumed audience following along with their own copy of the graphic novel. I like the idea of making a ritual object. It's the oldest and most practical type of art. If other people adopt comics into their Purim celebrations that's great, but it was never a primary goal.
DC: I'm interested in some of the aesthetic choices you both make in your works. JT, probably the most apparent formal feature of the book is the "flip-flop" at chapter six. Can you comment on why you felt it was important to include this feature, which can be disorienting for the reader? Steve, you set Marked in a modern context with an antique feel. At times, it felt as if your characters inhabit a Pink Floyd-esque totalitarian state. What effect were you aiming for with the setting? Also, one possible critique of your book could be the portrayal of the Jewish characters within the Temple. Can you comment on your representations of these characters?
SR: I actually modeled the villainous religious leaders from a pastiche of religions. For example, in an early scene, a religious leader spews a hate sermon from a pulpit. The pulpit is the one from my own church, St. Bartholomew's. One of my main critiques of Mel Gibson's movie was his ready willingness to use a particular time, place and race to epitomize religious corruption, when in fact it is universal. To that end, I wanted to show a non-specific militaristic dystopia where politics and religion were locked in a stifling, oppressive dance. By being non-specific, that also gave me the freedom to drop in specific comparisons with our current culture, where I see that same dance undergoing a booming revival.
JTW: I like the notion that the Bible requires an active reader. The "flip-flop" in Megillat Esther attempts to take that idea to another level. I include the Hebrew text of the Book of Esther alongside my English translation because of rabbinic requirements (see Midrash found in Jerusalem Talmud [Megillah 19a] and Babylonian Talmud [Megillah 2:1]). Since each language is read from the opposite direction, this creates a disorienting criss-crossing effect. Then I let form follow function and found legitimacy for my "gimmick" in the themes of the story that include overturning power, role-reversals, and a sanctioned scoffing of the establishment. My goal was to disorient the reader and then have them reach the end of the book without realizing how they'd acclimated to this new reading style. It's a little cheeky and in full swing with the carnivalesque tone of Purim.
DC: Perhaps the issue in which I'm most interested is what you both are doing with the Bible. In the Introduction to Megillat Esther, Rabbi Silberschein calls it an "expanded biblical narrative." JT, does this imply that your work falls within the tradition of midrash? Steve, in your Acknowledgments, you claim that you're not a theologian, but you make artistic and theological choices in your work about the presentation of the foundational story for Christianity. As such, I'd like to hear from both of you as to what you feel you've done with/to the Bible. Are these new interpretations for a new day? A new genre for a new generation? Are there issues of authority that some readers might raise in critiquing your works?
SR: I have a somewhat dysfunctional relationship with authority to begin with and I tend to question authority almost out of habit (think Marlon Brando's "What have you got?" retort [in the 1953 film The Wild One]). But, as part of the Anglican tradition, I am not asked to check my brain at the door, but rather to bring my questions and doubts right up there to the altar for all to see. It is my duty as a thinking Christian to question, to probe, and yes, to even doubt. I take great comfort in the fact that I'm not alone, that history is full precedents. Thomas, even after all his doubts, is still a saint after all. I'm suspicious of people who start a sentence with "The Bible says..." The Bible is a cacophonous collection of disparate authors, writing at vastly different times in history and to vastly different audiences. There is no one single voice. Therefore, when I read the Bible, either for prayer or when studying in preparation for my book, I feel called to bring all my life and experience and intelligence to bear. For example, if a passage appears to advocate slavery, and I know in my heart that slavery is wrong, I'm challenged by the Bible there and then to attempt to understand why that passage is there. Is there a historical context that I'm missing? Is it to set up a contrasting point of view later? Is it there to goad me? Or is it just plain "wrong"? And here's where it gets interesting. I don't have to have an answer as to why this offensive and patently "wrong" line is in the Bible. My job is to struggle with it. Yet I'm still a Christian who believes in the Bible as the Word of God. This is what I meant earlier about practicing the art of living in tension between faith and doubt. My intention wasn't to illustrate the gospel per se. It was to give form to the tension that the Gospel generates in a thinking Christian.
JTW: Megillat Esther is contemporary midrash. The minute the Hebrew text is translated, midrash is created. The footnoted visuals and narrative expansions within Megillat Esther are required within rabbinic literature—so my work just follows suit. Midrash explains and expands the biblical text, and that's exactly what I intended with this work.
The greatest work by Maimonides, his Mishneh Torah, was controversial because he failed to cite his sources. According to Jewish tradition, my views have authority only if I include footnotes and a bibliography. If you don't check your sources you could end up like Dan Rather.
Both Ross' and Waldman's work represent simultaneously a look forward and a look backward for biblical interpretation. The former is obvious, as here we see ancient stories rendered in new forms and garbs. The latter should be obvious as well, since, as Scott McCloud observes, some of the oldest art we possess can be defined as comic art, and art has historically been used to supplement and even enhance biblical tales. Both graphic novels fall under McCloud's definition of comics ("juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer"), and it is equally obvious that they both fulfill the functions of this definition as well. Finally, even though he does not discuss them specifically, Greg Garrett could just as well be referring to both Ross' and Waldman's graphic novels when he writes,
In the process of telling their stories of human—and superhuman—characters, comics deal with issues near and dear to our hearts: faith, hope, belief, guilt, justice, redemption, ultimate meaning, ultimate evil. . . . But whether we read because we need to see good conquer evil or we read as people drawn to issues of faith and spirituality, clearly comics have much to show us.
As with all stories, there are things in comics that can change our lives, recognitions that can charge our consciences, and darkness that can sear our souls. We can learn about peace and its sad absence. We can learn about justice and mercy. We can see great faith and the reality of its failure. We can step into the shoes of those making ethical decisions, decisions we ourselves might face, or have faced. And if we read wisely, we can discern much about the human condition—and about the world to come.
In sum, these are important and meaningful works that deserve to be read not only by biblical scholars and comic enthusiasts, but also by those of us who care about the intersection of the Bible and popular culture.
1. For a definition of graphic novel, see David G. Burke, Review of The Lone and Level Sands, SBL Forum; online: http://www.sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleId=451: "The graphic novel is one of the numerous categories within the broad medium of comics or comic books. The comic book has traditionally been a thirty-two page stapled pamphlet in which a brief story is conveyed through a sequential narrative involving both visual art and print text. The graphic novel joins story narrative with sequential art in the same way, but has a much longer scope (as in this example under review) and is able to narrate a complete story. A second distinguishing feature vis-à-vis comic books is that graphic novels are developed with marked higher-end production values: hardcover books, labor intensive, sophisticated art and design features." (par. 1). See also David G. Burke and Lydia Lebrón-Rivera, "Transferring Biblical Narrative to Graphic Novel," SBL Forum; online: http://www.sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleId=249.
2. See Grant Morrison and Klaus Janson, Batman: Gothic (New York: DC Comics, 1992), especially the learned introduction by F. Paul Wilson.
3. Chris Claremont, X-treme X-Men, Volume 5: God Loves, Man Kills (New York: Marvel Comics, 2003). This volume includes two different stories, both with the same title, viz., God Loves, Man Kills: the original 1982 graphic novel (one of the first in the history of comics), and the 2003 conclusion.
4. Written by Garth Ennis, the Preacher series spans from 1995-2000 and includes nine graphic novels.
5. Mark Waid and Alex Ross, Kingdom Come (New York: DC Comics, 1997).
6. Greg Garrett, Holy Superheroes! Exploring Faith & Spirituality in Comic Books (Colorado Springs, CO: Piñon Press, 2005), 19.
7. Steve Ross, Marked (New York: Seabury Books, 2005), and JT Waldman, Megillat Esther (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2005).
8. Interestingly, the Jesus in the cult classic Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter (2001) undergoes a similar transformation when he realizes his old garb and methods will not allow him to defeat modern, hip vampires.
9. I am thinking specifically of the parallel between the large Ts on which people are crucified in the novel and the walking hammers in the film.
10. Burke, Review of The Lone and Level Sands, par. 11.
11. Even the mainstream press has taken notice of Ross' work. See the brief piece on Marked by Elise Soukop in Newsweek (28 November 2005), p. 12.
12. See http://www.markedgraphicnovel.com/home.html.
13. See http://www.stbarts.org/.
14. The Megillat Esther website is http://www.megillatesther.com. For the National Association of Comics Art Educators, see http://www.teachingcomics.org.
15. Conrad Ostwalt, Secular Steeples: Popular Culture and the Religious Imagination (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003), 7.
16. Ostwalt, Secular Steeples, 12 and 14.
17. See Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (New York: HarperCollins, 1993), 10-15.
18. McCloud, Understanding Comics, 9. I would also claim that these works echo the claims of Paul Buhle in his work on comic scholarship ("The New Scholarship of Comics," The Chronicle Review [16 May 2003], sec. B, pp. 7-9). Buhle writes, "The best and most interesting of comics strips and comic books have entertained but also educated us-despite (and sometimes partly because of) the disapproval that parents and cultural critics have expressed-all of our lives. They have taught us, despite a paucity of didacticism, about manners and morals, but mostly about the subtly changing scene behind the ostensible narrative of politics, economics, and warfare. . . . Comics offer a running commentary, whether by artistic intent or otherwise, on the look and feel of daily life. They provide, at their best (however rare that may be), a meditation on the social history around us" (p. 9).
19. Garrett, Holy Superheroes!, 25.
20. Garrett, Holy Superheroes!, 25-26.
Dan W. Clanton, Jr., University of Denver, Denver, Colorado
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Citation: Dan W. Clanton, Jr., " The Bible and Graphic Novels: A Review and Interview with the Authors of "Marked" and "Megillat Esther"," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Jan 2006]. Online:http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=477