Monday, February 2, 2015

Scripture as Canon

After all, one might say, sacred 'canons' were around long before literary ones. So why not add them to the list? The idea is at least as old as the typical "The Bible as Literature" course, which has been taught on many college campuses since the 1960's.

Still, reading the Bible -- or any other sacred text -- "as" literature is no easy task. The sacred mode of reading, in which every word is regarded as the word of God, and must be filtered through thousands of years of theological thought and debate, is far different from the 'literary' mode, in which meaning is debated anew, everyone's 'response' is (potentially) meaningful, and one can talk about things such as style, pacing, and characterization. It's not disrespectful to religion -- but religious right and wrong have to be set aside in order to discovery literary meaning and value.

This is easiest with those sacred texts that are narrative in form, as opposed to those which are more collections of hymns, prayers, or sacred sayings. The Bible has an ample supply of both; at the core of the Old Testament is the history of the Jewish kings of old, and the many prophets sent to get Israel back on the right track. Alongside these, there are others -- the Psalms of David are hymns, and the Song of Songs is an erotic love poem, one whose meaning has had to be re-directed over time to a 'higher' plane of understanding.

The history of illustrated Bibles is an interesting one: first, of course, the old prohibition on images, which is in the Second Commandment, had to be set aside; if the semi-literate could understand better from pictures, it was reasoned, why not use them to share and spread the religious message? It doesn't always work out so well -- R. Crumb's illustrated Book of Genesis was widely hated by evalgelical Christians in the U.S., even though its pictures and text are very strictly based on the King James text of the Bible.

In Russ Kick's version we have several different styles and approaches. In J.T. Waldman's adaptation of The Book of Esther, the original Hebrew text is there, and the style of drawing is woven in and out of the wide and narrow lines of its script; in Benjamin Frisch's Book of Daniel -- he chooses, aptly enough, the parable from Daniel about idol-worship and the Fiery Furnace -- the figures look like stained glass windows come to life. Finally, in Rick Geary's Book of Revelation, we have a fairly spare, figurative style that seems to me to hark back to the old Classics Illustrated.

Is one of these more suited to its subject than the others? Should the approach to illustrating such stories be reverential? Humorous? Both? And what does seeing them add to these stories?

Your comments below.


  1. These styles are all very different in there own ways. While Rick Geary’s Book of Revelations has a rather mature, classic and sophisticated vibe, Benjamin Frisch's Book of Daniel has a more creative, animated, and unique feeling to it. Neither of these adaptations is more suited to its subject than another. There is no right or wrong way for Geary or Frisch to convey the story through illustration. Both are simply trying to help readers with the literature through visual aid. Stories like these can go both ways when illustration comes into play. The author can either go with something more serious, or something comical. Sometimes, the author may even use both. Whichever one is used is not important in my opinion. As long as the author can get the point across of what the story is trying to convey than the illustrations have done their job. Seeing helps readers put a mental picture in their head of what the story is supposed to look like. Seeing illustrations also helps reader’s better understand the text. Normally people ‘judge books by their covers’ or more descriptively, by their illustrations. Illustration is another way for a reader to look at a book and get a different opinion on it. Maybe, the reader won’t like the illustrations because of how different they were from what they were thinking. However, they could grow to like the book or story even more because it was exactly like it. Illustrations guide readers through books, give better understanding, and help with creating an opinion and viewpoint for the book.

  2. These stories that the artists present are very important sacred texts, and the idea of bringing them into a graphic novel format (meaning pictures will be presented) may not be acceptable for some cultures and some people. To me, I think it's important to have drawn pictures to fully explain what the text is saying. The illustrations for its particular subject are very interesting and I think the book of esther did very well at pertaining to its subject. The book of esther illustration also included the original hebrew text, and the art style is very arabic, it is an interesting depiction of the hebrew religious text, so it didn't stray too off from the ancient origin into the modern classification.
    The approach to the illustrations should be what the illustrators feel about it but that could be controversial depending on the artists views and beliefs on religion. It's hard to draw such sacred texts in a certain style because for the most part people will get offended, and it's almost like a challenge to those people.
    Though some people say its blasphemy and heresy to illustrate the religious texts of the bible and torrah and other such books, it often gives a better definition of the meaning of the texts to those people that struggle with understanding them. Gearys illustration of Revelations draws a circle around Gods face, which doesn't give God a particular gender or facial feature, and I think that was a smart move on his part. Giving illustrations alongside the texts, I believe, truly puts out a better understanding at the intended meaning. The big words and old phrases are going to throw people and almost turn them off from reading it. These artists do a great job at illustrating the truly fantastic stories that are from these sacred books.

  3. I am a visual learner and I remember things better and understand them better when there are pictures of some sort. I think that these illustrations of these texts work well with the story. I like that the Book of Revelation was in black and white because if it was in color I think it would be too busy since there is a lot more text shown in this piece than others we have read. I think that the text for Revelations helps move the story along without having it be boring to get through.

    I think that the somewhat humorous illustrations went perfectly with the Book of Daniel because the story has somewhat of a humorous or ironic feel to it. I like that Frisch uses bright colors (reds, oranges and yellows) to portray the story. It is about men being put into a furnace so the colors in the beginning almost foreshadow what will happen with the men later on in the story.

    I love that the Book of Esther included the Hebrew text as well as the English translations. It almost gives the impression that there are two sides of the story. Reading this text made me feel like I was reading a poem because of the way the words were spread out and placed within the picture itself, rather than being in a thought bubble. Having the text within the pictures draws you into the story and lets you really examine what's going on in the picture.

    Illustrations of these texts not only help to understand what is happening, it shows readers another way of looking at the text. Visuals help more people than others but personally I think it keeps students engaged and entertained.

  4. Illustrating these bible texts open their stories up to a whole new audience. People enjoying reading differently. Some prefer just the writing, others enjoy the addition of pictures. The illustrations also tend to make it easier for people to understand the stories. There is a reason that children's stories are written with pictures, it keeps them entertained and helps them to see what is happening even when they aren't sure. The same can go for adults, but they are just less likely to admit it. I think the decision between it being reverential or humorous is a tough choice to make and depends on the willingness of the illustrator. Some people and cultures would see the humor as being disrespectful. Others would just see it as a different adaptation of the story. With this, it becomes up to the illustrator to make the decision and deal with the consequences, good and bad. Out of the three adaptions, I would prefer The Book of Daniel because it is easiest to follow along with, the illustrations compliment the story, and I personally enjoy the bits of humor added into it. I also enjoyed the font and colors used because it made me feel like I was reading from the time of Caesar. I think that the illustrations found with The Book of Esther are so intricate and detailed, that they take away from the story itself and the black and white of the pictures made the words blend in as well. While reading The Book of Revelation, I had trouble following the panels in order. At some points, I wondered if there was a set order at all. I think illustrations are best when they fit with the story. If they don't, they should just not be used at all.

  5. I have never actually read a graphic novel before, so seeing these adaptation filled with pictures is particularly enjoyable. I am a visual learner, and reading the little experts before the adaptations I am able to figure out the story to come. As I continue to decipher the pictures (painting a story in my head as well), I am able to not only understand the context but the art, culture, time period, and language behind the author (or illustrator) too. The Book of Esther was my favorite to apprehend. The author puts a modern twist to not only the words but the pictures. I was laughing with each flip of the page. The hebrew text added on each page gave me a look into a different culture and language. I loved being able to look at both the hebrew and english text because it always made me believe their were two different stories within one. I found it very humorous as well that the Queen left the King upon his outrageous request (ugh men). The pictures illustrated also remind me of a comic strip that I would see in my newspaper on Sundays (black and white and to the point), as well as, the borders that you place on a Microsoft word document to give your paper some pizazz (like a scroll or aztec design). The Book of Daniel also had a comical twist too it. I liked that since this was a biblical text that the pictures were collaged together almost to look like stained glass that you would find in a church, making the text feel more connected to the illustrations. The colors within the pictures also gives an almost ancient feel to the story as well as coincides with the fierce fire which is a big part of the story. I found this piece extremely funny because the three men stuck their ground to the king and ended up over powering them. Seeing these illustrations within these renditions gives both pieces a modern day feel. It not only captures my eye more but makes biblical experts enjoyable to read. I love how the authors were not only able to give a comical spin on the ancient texts, but were able to portray that humor through graphics.

  6. Corey Carvalho

    All of the adaptations to these biblical texts are very different from each other. The Book of Esther, my least favorite of the three, had a very ancient feel to it. The Hebrew lettering on almost every page helped portray the imagery of just how old the text is. The visuals, being comprised of what seemed to be an almost infinite amount of differently sized lines, was not very appealing to my eye.
    The Book of Daniel had a very cartoon-y feel to it. The characters resembled Roman statues - the definition of muscle, the attire, and the style. This coupled with the cartoon-y expressions definitely fit the subject. The illustrations also help relate to our modern society. They portray how foolish people look for worshiping idols, and in today's world these idols are our materialistic possessions.
    The Book of Revelations was my favorite. The illustrations were absolutely chaotic, just like the subject matter. Panels were not in a readable order, illustrations were jumping from one panel to another, and everything seemed separate yet, at the same time, melded together. The illustrations definitely show just how scary the Book of Revelations really is.
    Being a Christian, I can honestly say I am not offended at all by these illustrations, and sometimes I do believe they are necessary from a literary standpoint.

  7. Reading these literary classics through graphic interpretation is a very unique and creative approach to say the least.
    In "The Book of Esther", I really liked the fact that the original Hebrew text was included. It gave the story reverence by allowing the reader to almost think back to that specific time period by seeing the writing styles. I also liked the black and white color scheme, as it added a dramatic and true comic feel.
    In "The Book of Daniel", Frisch has a different approach to his graphic. Warmer tones were chosen, as well as a different character appearance. The warm tones go hand in hand with the written text, allowing the reader to get the full picture of the fiery furnace.
    "The Book of Revelation", stood out to me the most. If I could describe this particular graphic in one word, it would be: horrifying! Although when you actually read the book of Revelations in the original text, you can visualize the events rather well. However, there is just something about seeing the images parallel to the text that really adds an eery feel.
    In conclusion, I personally do not think there is a write or wrong way in regards to the graphic approach. As long as the author is getting his or her point across while maintaining a respectful manner, I think that there is a lot of wiggle room so to speak. Illustrations are all about creativity, and I appreciate the animations just as much as the written text.

    Marissa DeRoy

  8. To classify if an adaptation of a religious text is more suitable to its subject over another would depend on the audience. Is the reader religious, a part of academia, or a person who wishes to be well-read? Each categorized reader will decipher the graphic adaptation from a different viewpoint. Again, considering if the illustrations are to be revered ultimately is up to the specific reader. The religious stories may render the illustrations to become revered because of the power the stories hold. Of the three adaptations, “The Book of Revelation” appears to represent a religious standpoint more so than the others (“The Book of Daniel” and “The Book of Esther”). The illustrations appear to be more realistic albeit cartoons. The amount of text used on each page also brings forth a more serious attitude. Such an attitude that is closely related to mass. While “The Book of Revelation” can be geared more towards a religious reader, the other two possess the ability to reach out towards other readers, like an academic or a well-read person. The artworks depict a lighter sense of storytelling. “The Book of Daniel” is drawn to represent what appears to be stained glass. Stained glass is known to be related to churches. While this effect comes off to entice a religious audience, the actual portrayal of the characters and the style of the infrastructure resemble a more Roman and Greek background. The way the muscles, hair, clouds, and columns along the sides of the pages are examples of this. So, if the adaptation was to connect to a religious audience, then it is a contradictory representation. “The Book of Esther” is similar to “The Book of Daniel”, but there are a few differences. The artwork in the former adaptation involves only a black and white portrayal of the story that depicts the same wealth of the previous ruler. I think the main focus is meant to be the Hebrew writings paralleled with the English text. This style can be more appealing towards an academic. There is more history intertwined in the story than the other two.
    Mary Gaide

  9. It is hard to say if one of these renditions is more suited to its subject than the others because I have only read The Book of Revelation. Since it was my first time reading the Book of Esther and the Book of Daniel, the subjects were slightly confusing to me. However the illustrations done in the Book of Daniel helped me to understand this story much better than the illustrations in the Book of Esther. The Book of Daniel’s illustrations were clear and easy to follow, while the Book of Esther had a foreign language and pictures that were unclear and scattered.

    Deciding whether a rendition should be on the more serious or comical side must be a very different decision for the author to make. They must make sure that their renditions appeal to many different types of people. It would seem to me that a good decision would be to mix the two styles together within the story, with some parts more serious than others. I don’t think any reader would want a whole story to be completely serious or completely comical the entire time. People like variety and change, which keeps them interested and wanting to read more.

    Seeing these pictures adds a lot of information and imagination to the stories. Sometimes we are able to understand something a lot more clearly by physically seeing it in front of us. Our imagination might come up with something that is the complete opposite of what the author was trying to portray. With these illustrations we are able to compare our thoughts to the author’s thoughts and make sure we understand everything clearly.

  10. I think that the illustrations help tell each of these stories very well, but in their own unique way. I don't think any one of these three works is more particularly suited to its subject than another. Due to these texts being sacred, some people may not appreciate the graphic adaptations because they feel these texts should be told how they originally were. In my opinion, the illustrations in these adaptations help tell these stories which leads to a better understanding of the piece.
    "The Book of Esther" has a real comic feel to it due to the black and white color scheme and the placement of the illustrations. Some take up an entire page, while others are in panels. A nice touch to this story was including the Hebrew text along with the English translation. The placement of the text also made this story flow very well.
    Unlike Waldman, Frisch uses a very warm and colorful scheme in his illustrations in "The Book of Daniel". The font used in this text goes along with the color scheme and story. The warm, bright colors help to predict what will happen to the three men and definitely illustrate the fiery furnace scene.
    The black and white color scheme in "The Book of Revelation" was a good choice since there are many illustrations and a lot going on in this text. If this text involved a different color scheme, there would be too much going on in one place. The graphics in this adaptation help visualize what the text is saying so you have a better idea of the story. The author puts pictures to the words for you.
    I feel that seeing these graphics along with the texts to these stories help make them easier to understand and illustrate what is going on. I know some people would differ because these are sacred texts and feel as though they should be left alone. The graphics allow one to fully understand what is going on and get a good idea of what happened in the story being presented

  11. The Bible for many including myself, is a spiritual and holy piece of work. Some Christians believe it should not be studies as literature--to separate it from its holy nature, but I disagree. Looking at the Bible or other biblical documents from a different perspective is extremely useful for historical purposes, and especially for literature. If the History channel can create a live action television series called "The Bible" than translating the Bible into a graphic novel has a value as well. Many times in the original Bible if studied, you will find some unusual and interesting stories. You'll find stories involving sarcasm and humor, violence and gore, sexual behaviors, etc. So developing humor in these graphic novels is indeed mirroring the original text, more or less in some places, but still. In The Book of Esthar, Waldman includes the original Hebrew text which is an amazing technique used to translate into a graphic novel-- it is representing the genuine cultural of the time and setting. On each page Waldman used a different format for the artwork placement; one page vertical columns, next page horizontal, next overlapping figures combining with the following picture, etc. The black and white theme usually creates more of a serious vibe to me, which is done great here. The Book of Daniel, to me, seems more humorous, the figures, shapes, facial expressions, all seem very humorous. The orange, yellow and red theme go great with this chapter involving the fiery furnace. Last but not least, The book of Revelation. Geary did an amazing job at including all the graphics correlating with the text but one thing that I would of enjoyed in this would be the original Hebrew text this book is one of the most important books. Overall capturing these historical pieces of literature, regardless of spirituality, its a great way of making the text easier to understand.

  12. Neither passage is more suitable than the other. Personally having the illustrations is much easier and shows me exactly what the image I should be portraying in my mind. The passages are much more understandable and easier to comprehend the events that are occurring. It all depends on the eye of the beholder. Some may say that these passages should be approached in a serious and respectful manner because they are related to religion and in away the images may be considered to be blasphemous and offensive to those practicing religions.
    I feel as though regardless of how they are approached as long as the point is understand than I'm okay with it. having the images makes the passages really pop out and show you what event is occurring rather than trying to portray and image in your mind that may not be exactly what is actually occurring.

  13. When I read the adaption of “The Book of Daniel” from the Hebrew bible I noticed the art style was very unique. The author wanted to take an old story and be able to make it stand out with the color scheme and the modern art. It was very well drawn and adding the original text to it made it even better. Both the original text and graphic novel were intricate, however since it is a religious text not everyone would agree that the graphic novel is just as good as the original text. Some people might call the illustration an insult. I feel as though the illustrated version does not change the original text or meaning of the story therefor it is not insulting in any way

    Bryant Ayala.

  14. After going through both stories, I don’t think either is more suited to its subject than the other. First, the Book of Esther by J.T Waldman, and the Book of Revelation adaptations definitely portrays a more comic feeling to their illustrations. Both are in the classic black and white, and have texts in each frame. What the book of Ester shows are bigger pictures and boxes with large to small writing in each with different textures. His illustrations have Hebrew writing, and also English, but what intrigued me was his pictures of the females particularly were pretty accurate. They weren’t very cartoon-ish. The book of revelations has a lot going on in the pages. I think it’s a little bit too much writing, because it feels crammed all into one. Like mentioned in class, its better to have less text so the reader can figure out the story more through the images. In the Book of Daniel by Benjamin Frisch, he illustrates his drawings with a illuminating colors of the sun (reds, oranges, yellows). You are immediately drawn in because of the brightness, but also because the images are definitely cartoon drawings. It doesn’t have as much as a comic feeling, but more of a cartoon tv show. They aren’t realistic people or objects, which makes it fun as the reader to see. You can see their expressions clear as day and you know how they are feelings. The texts are spread out and it doesn’t seem too cluttered. I think the approach to illustration stories should vary. One could be reverential, where as the other is more humorous. It really depends on the story and what point you’re trying to get across to the reader. As long as its easily understood and clear, then I think it shouldn’t matter. Seeing all these illustrations has added more interest for me personally because I like to see pictures, rather than just texts in a book.

  15. I have a religious background so these stories is not new to me, however the illustrated presentation is, and I am greatly in favor of it. Because the Book of Ester, Book of David and the Book of Revelation are very descriptive stories, the illustrated version does a remarkable job telling the story. I think the colors and details Russ Kick uses enhances the story. In the Book of Ester there is hebrew included. I think hearing these stories as children, we tend to "Americanize" them to fit our perception, however seeing them illustrated broadens the imagination.

    Elisabeth Holloway

  16. The Book of Esther was very hard for me to read, it took awhile to figure out what the message was but the drawings did help. I really liked the The Book of Daniel because it was easy to follow and the pictures portrayed exactly what I thought so it was good to know that I had the right idea of what I was reading. - Brandon Men

  17. Robert Conway
    Unlike the one I received after my baptism, the Bible does not have pictures(and the book if I may say is VERY watered down). The bible is a tough book to read as it can have as many meanings or lessons as the reader can gather. Drawing the stories is a great way to better teach people about them, and it can keep kids from being mad about the fact that they were dragged off to CCD every monday.

  18. I believe that as with choosing what goes into a canon, choosing how to illustrate these works of literature, even ones from the bible, should be at the discretion of the artist. If it was deemed that the approach to the illustration of such texts should be done in a specific way, such as reverential or humorous, then I believe that as Robert Scholes said of choosing what should be included in a canon, we would lose our ability to be critical of these works. In this case we would lose our ability to be critical of the art created to accompany these religious texts. By including three different religious texts adapted in three different styles in his graphic canon, Kick has provided the reader the ability to compare them and to be critical of these adaptations. For this reason, I do not believe that any of these adaptations can be more suited to be more suited to its subject than the others. Not every person will agree on what is the best style of illustration to use in order to represent a religious story; therefore, how can one style be better than another?
    Each of the three adaptations that Kick has included in his canon is different; however, they all help the reader to understand what is happening in the text of each work. The illustrations of each adaptation, although different, provide the reader with additional information that may help the reader to pick up on something they otherwise may have missed. With literature, we are taught (or forced) to read many different types of literature because it will benefit us. We use what we have read previously to understand what we read in the future. Therefore with graphic adaptations, it is beneficial to look at many different styles of adaptations and to use what we have already looked at to understand future adaptations and to be critical of them.


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