Matt Dorff, Mark Arey
“Messiah: Origin” is the first “Graphic Novel” (not “Comic Book”) series that uses visuals and biblical language to tell the story of the life of Jesus Christ from John 1 (“In the beginning was the Word…”) and His birth to the inauguration of his ministry at his baptism by John the Baptist.
A Word about Scripture in Media
Since the very beginning artists have been trying to capture the big stories of God’s people in various kinds of media. I’m a visual guy (in an increasingly visual age) and I’m a big fan of different kinds of media. I appreciate the hard work and dedication these artists take in presenting their telling of the “old, old story”. The benefits of experiencing scripture in many forms (sculpture, paint on canvas, film, drama, dance, comic book, etc.) is that they can open our eyes to new interpretations and insights into familiar stories.
I’ve read a few versions of the New Testament set in graphic novel format — and I’ve learned to appreciate the differences. The beauty of a graphic novel is the nuance it brings to the text. The artists are forced to ask themselves questions we may never have thought of: Who was looking at whom? What expression was on their face? What does Jesus look like when He’s praying aloud? What does an angel really look like? Each artist makes their own decisions and those come with their own risks, rewards and revelations.
The first thing I will say about “Messiah: Origin” is that though Zondervan is promoting this as a “Graphic Novel”, it really isn’t. “Messiah: Origins” is more of an artistic experiment where a bible translator put words over an artists pictures (or vice-versa). It lacks the flow and story-telling of a traditional Graphic Novel. It’s almost as though the translator sent a series of disconnected e-mails saying, “Can you please make a piece of art based on this sentence?” It’s more like walking through a gallery than reading a story.
That said, here are some strengths and weaknesses:
- The greatest strength of this book is that the artist (Kai Carpenter) makes some bold decisions and interpretive choices that certainly give the reader something to think about.
- The sentence structure of the translation is simple and the art is very colourful and emotive, using lots of contrast and rich tones. Many individual frames lend themselves to taking time to meditate on what the reader sees. This book has some very good art.
- The author’s translation is a little jarring at times (using “lust of the flesh” instead of “will of the flesh” for John 1:13, or using the word “fetus” instead of “baby” in Luke 1:41, for example). Not wrong, just different than I’m used to. I couldn’t decide if this was a strength or a weakness, but since it made me mentally process the message of Bible in a different way, I’ll call it a strength. Some of the decisions seem really strange though.
- The chapters entitled “The Fulfilment of the Law” and “Adoration of the Magi” were excellent! Great flow and storytelling, beautiful, complimentary art, and meaningful translation.
- Many pages do not not seem to be Kai Carepenter’s best work. Some pages are stunning, but others seem rushed and incomplete. His on-line gallery contains some beautiful artwork, so I know it’s not a matter of skill-level.
- Much of the art is disconnected from the meaning of the text it’s supposed to be expanding on. There seems to have been some shoehorning going on.
- Some of the artist’s decisions, if interpreted a certain way, border on heresy. For example, John 1:1, “In the beginning He was with God.” has a picture of a baby made of stars (Pg 21). Is this the birth of Jesus (which would be unbiblical), or an artistic representation of the birth of the cosmos? A draft of this book would have done well to be sent past a theologian or two — and maybe a biblical historian.
- The storytelling is weak. If you didn’t know the story of Jesus already, you would be lost as to what was going on most of the time.
- The artist seems to take Mary’s Magnificat and points it at the the veneration of Mary in the Roman Catholic Church. That’s not what “From now on all generations will call me blessed” meant.
Would I buy or recommend this book? No, I wouldn’t. The weaknesses outweigh the strengths. However, I would gladly hang many of the pictures (with text) on the wall of my office.
Bonus Reviews from my Kids
I gave the book to my kids to review too. Here’s what they came up with:
Erica (9): “This book was very well done. Jesus should look better.”
Edison (11): “Luke 2:41-52 was cool. I like that Jesus looked like a 9 year old.”