Art by Siku; script by Akin Akinsiku
published by Galilee Trade; $12.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
In the Manga Bible, the authors want “to give you, the reader, a taste of the most important themes and characters, and a basic idea of what’s it’s all about.” As the subtitle states, this volume covers the narrative stories of the Bible from the first moment of creation to the end of time. The appendix of the book has two parts. The first part is the two authors discussing some of the choices they made for the adaptation. The second part is a gallery of rough sketches.
The artwork doesn’t look very mangaesque. In fact, it is more reminiscent of English independent comics. This makes sense since the artist, Siku, got his start working for 2000 AD. I found the art dissatisfying. It reminds me of the sketches artists do when they are roughing figures into a panel to determine what pose to use and how everything will fit together. There are lots of stray lines that appear to have no purpose and only the foreground figures are drawn in detail. Often midground and far away figures are just outlines. The book needs a good art editor to clean up and smooth out the linework.
The adaptation has deep flaws. First, there are the problems of narration in the book. On page 49, we are told the Israelites wander the Sinai desert for 40 years. On page 50, the nation of Israel is standing on the border of the Promised Land. Suddenly, pages 52-54 flash back to 37 years ago when the Israelites first came to the border of the Promised Land and refused to enter out of fear of the Canaanite inhabitants. There is nothing to let the reader know they have just jumped back in time until the end, when a panel has Moses tell the Israelites not to repeat their past mistake. To someone unfamiliar with the Biblical text, it would be easy for them to think that Israel wandered the desert for 77 instead of 40 years. Honestly, I keep thinking the pages got mixed up and pages 52-54 really should come before page 49.
The narrative reads like the scriptwriter is strip-mining scripture. He bulldozes over details and nuances in the Biblical text to move the plot along. Take the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers (Genesis 37:1-36). According to the Manga Bible, Joseph was a favored son of Jacob, who gave him an expensive coat. His brothers are so jealous of Joseph’s favored status and his new coat they decide to kill him. The oldest brother, Reuben, convinces them not to kill Joseph, but to just put him in a well for the time being. The other brothers agree not to kill Joseph, but to sell him into slavery.
The Biblical text adds a few more details. Joseph is the eleventh of twelve sons. He is the most favored and is given an expensive coat. However, Joseph also begins to have dreams in which he will rule over his brothers and his parents, dreams he imprudently shares with his brothers. (Joseph’s familiarity with dreams and their interpretation will play an important part later in his life.) It’s the dreams that push the brothers over the edge. The implication in the Biblical text is that the brothers are scared that Jacob will take heed of these dreams and actually make Joseph the head of the clan. To prevent this, the brothers plot murder, but Reuben steps in and saves Joseph. However, it’s implied that Reuben’s motivates are far from pure. It appears he plans to rescue Joseph from the well and then rat out his brothers to win favor with Jacob. While Reuben is away taking care of some business, the other brothers sell Joseph into slavery without Reuben’s knowledge.
By reducing this part of Joseph’s life to just four panels, the Manga Bible plows under all the subplots and subtly of the original Biblical story. I understand the Manga Bible is meant to be a quick survey of the entire Bible. However, even a summary of the text should include the important details, such as Joseph’s dreams. If you can’t tell the story well, then maybe you shouldn’t tell it at all and simply direct the reader to the source material.
There are also theological flaws in the Manga Bible. Let’s look at the story of Jonah. The authors do a good job with the first two chapters of the book. This is the famous story of Jonah refusing to obey God’s call to preach to Nineveh and being swallowed by a whale. However, chapter three is reduced to three panels and the major event of the chapter, the repentance of Nineveh, is reduced to a sentence. This radically changes the theology of the book. In the actual Biblical text, when Jonah preaches God’s message of doom, the king of Nineveh responds immediately. The king declares a day of fasting and prayer for all residents of the city, both human and animal. Everyone, including the animals, are to wear sackcloth and pray for forgiveness.
In the Manga Bible version of Jonah, God is a sadist who enjoys torturing prophets for refusing to deliver unnecessary messages. The main theological statement in the Biblical text of Jonah is a condemnation for Israel’s bigotry. Israel has come to believe that as God’s chosen people, only they are worthy of salvation. Through Jonah, God reminds Israel that He is the God of all the nations and His salvation is open to all who listen and obey His voice. Also, the repentance of Nineveh is meant to be a rebuke to the nation of Israel. They who call themselves God’s chosen people usually are deaf to His messages. It takes a prophet years to be taken seriously in Israel and rarely do they repent with the same fervor as the pagans did. The Manga Bible was the first time I had seen Jonah portrayed as the hero of the book!
It takes great skill to handle such a rich and multilayered book as the Bible. Unfortunately, the authors appear to lack the experience and subtlety needed for such a delicate task. Even though the Manga Bible is meant to be just “a taste”, it so alters the original Biblical text that all we’re left with is an artificial flavor. The Manga Bible serves as a cautionary tale for others trying to create a comic book version of the Bible.
The Manga Bible has a website where you can get more information on the book and the authors. A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.