The December 21 opening of The Adventures of Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn, should focus attention not only on the boy from Belgium but also on the graphic arts medium. That’s why I’m using this opportunity to introduce Kingstone Media group—but first, a little detour around Tintin.
It’s a funny name for a funny kid: an apparent teenager without home or family or visible means of support, a reporter who does no reporting, a world traveler and crime stopper who remains charmingly naïve. The most distinctive feature of his round bland head is a persistent red cowlick, that neither fire nor water can disturb. My kids discovered him while still kids, because the public library where we were living at the time had a complete set. They loved him, my daughter particularly: one or another of the twenty-three adventures paid frequent visits to our house until she saved enough money to start buying her own copies. Though mostly action-adventure, the stories had plenty of humor, likeable characters, and recognizable stereotypes, though some of them are not considered PC. Tintin probably had something to do with my son’s early ambition to become a comic book artist, which he has at least partially fulfilled. The Tintin books are a fine example of the artful pairing of words and pictures in a way that complements both.
The comic book/graphic novel market waxes and wanes. After an explosion of graphic novels in the 1980s the genre went into retreat. But now it’s back. And it’s only to be expected that “Christian comics” would be part of the revival. When I was a child, the Sunday comics section of The Dallas Morning News always carried a strip called “Tales From the Great Book.” Saul and David, the Exodus, Jonah and the Whale scrolled out week to week, panel to panel. I don’t remember if the artwork was especially good; it was traditional. Perhaps because I already knew the stories, I was not attracted by the strip, and I’m not a fan of the comic genre today. Too many pictures distract me—my eyes do not know where to go. And they’re noisy: loud colors, violent emotions, lots of “Aieee!” and “Noooo!” and “Argh!”
But that’s just me. I don’t have a principled objection to comic books as along as they’re not a complete literary diet, and as a visual medium they have a strong appeal to boys. Emily plans to write about The Action Bible soon, but today I’m looking at Kingstone Media Group, which is aiming to become the leading publisher of Christian comics.
The Christ is a good place to start: three volumes so far. The first begins with Gabriel’s announcement to Mary and pictures the strain this news put on her relationship to Joseph. The story of Zacharias and Elizabeth is folded in, as well as insight into the political situation of the day. Jesus’s birth takes place in a cave, as the best scholarship indicates, there are more magi than three, and they make their visit about two years after Jesus was born. The art, by Action Bible illustrator Sergio Cariello, blasts other stereotypes as well: his angels don’t have wings. Volume 2, produced by the same team, begins with the baby’s presentation in the temple and reiterates the magi story from Herod’s point of view—lots of opportunity for comic book action there. Some pages later, the boy Jesus confounds the elders in the temple, and responds respectfully to her mother’s rebuke. But his backward look at the city where he would die is both telling and enigmatic: how much does he know?
The Beginning appropriately starts with creation and ends with the scattering of nations and a “To be continued . . .” The first eleven chapters of Genesis are the most controversial as to which parts, if any, are symbolic—The Beginning takes the orthodox historical view (six-day creation, worldwide flood) but throws in some extra-biblical speculation. For instance: “On the sixth day, with the evil one’s watching, God formed a new creature from the dust of the ground.” After the fall, Satan taunts Eve: “He will kill you now. Look what he did to me!”—without making clear what he means. On the positive side, it’s clear that God provides a covering for Adam and Eve, corresponding to Christ’s righteousness for us. The contrast between Cain and Abel is excellent. While Noah builds his boat (an impressively big box), his neighbors argue with him: “Why would a loving God destroy his children?” A nice way of illustrating that the skeptical objections our kids are likely to encounter are hardly new.
Moses and Exodus make a complete story that captures the drama of Israel’s liberation from Egypt, ending with the entrance into the promised land. Again, there are a few questionable details, but I particularly liked the framing of the plagues of Egypt as contests between the Lord and Egypt’s gods. And the unmistakable link between the blood that stayed the angel of death and lamb of God who held back God’s wrath: “Then this lamb has died for me?” asks a firstborn son of his father. The picture of the brass serpent on the pole is a visual echo of a sacrifice on a cross.
The Bible comics collection includes Samson, Jonah, Esther, Elijah, and Revelation. Babylon is a hardcover book covering the book of Daniel, including some of the prophesies. Also of interest and possibly educational are the 101 Questions series—questions like, “Where did Cain get his wife?” and “What happens to people after death?” The Book of God explains the history of the Bible, and Martyrs is a new series about early heroes of faith. The graphic novels will have to wait for another post.
The books are well-designed with art ranging from adequate to brilliant. Printing values are excellent (with a few typos), on glossy paper that will stand up to a lot of perusal. Do they communicate God’s truth? Yes, though of course the Bible itself does it better, and kids need to learn that not all the Bible is easily adapted to pictures and high drama. But in the right balance, with the right kids, comics can open doors of perception.
UPDATE: If you have an iPad you can download this app from Kingstone and then download a free comic!
By the way, my favorite graphic novel of the year is Hereville: How Mirka Got her Sword, reviewed here.