Two Mother Teresa Manga
Guest review by Ed Sizemore
Covering EduManga: Mother Teresa and Great Figures in History: Mother Teresa.
The Life of Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910, in current day Macedonia. Her parents were both devout Catholics. Drane, Agnes’ mother, constantly helped the poor with deliveries of food and clothing. She modeled for her children a compassion that expressed itself in meeting the tangible needs of the less fortunate. By age 12, Agnes was convinced that she wanted to be a nun and a missionary to the poor. At age 18, she joined the Sisters of Loreto, an order of missionary nuns and took the name Teresa when she made her holy vows. She learned English and was sent to Loreto’s convent in Calcutta, India, to be a teacher.
She served as a teacher until she was overwhelmed with a desire to aid the most destitute of Indian society more directly. It took a year, and the direct permission from the Pope, for Teresa to be allowed to leave the convent and to begin a personal ministry to the poor. In August 1948, she left Calcutta briefly for Patna to learn basic medical skills. She then moved back to the slum of Motjhil in Calcutta and set up an open air school. Soon, word of her work spread, and some of her former students showed up to help.
On October 7, 1950, Pope Paul VI recognized the Missionaries of Charity as an official ministry of the Catholic Church. The now Mother Teresa went on to found houses for the dying, orphans, and the sick in several countries as well as free schools for the poor. She received numerous humanitarian awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. (She had the Nobel committee forgo the normal awards banquet, so the money could be donated to the poor.) After struggling with poor health, Mother Teresa went to a well-deserved rest in the arms of Christ on September 5, 1997.
Mother Teresa (warning: link has sound) was one of the seminal religious figures of the 20th century. It’s no wonder that there have been numerous comic book adaptations of her life (Marvel did one in 1984). What’s interesting in reading these two manga is how they reflect the two different cultures they stem from. Much like the Gospel, the authors are trying to present Mother Teresa’s story in ways that will make sense to and connect with their given audience.
EduManga: Mother Teresa
Story by Masahide Kikai; art by Ren Kishida; translated by Kumiko Yuasa; DMP, $9.95 US
EduManga: Mother Teresa is written for a Japanese audience. It appears that the average Japanese person knows little about either Christianity or the Catholic Church. There are several notes explaining different religious terms and church offices. (One note explains the meaning of the word “Christian”.) This manga does a very good job of showing how Saint Francis was a significant inspiration to Agnes. However, I couldn’t help but feel this manga attributed Mother Teresa’s motivation less to personal piety than to her upbringing and Catholic education, so that family more than faith determined the direction of her life. A full third of the book is dedicated to Mother Teresa’s life prior to her joining the Sisters of Loreto.
You can also tell the significance of family in Japan from this manga. Agnes’ biggest obstacle in becoming a nun is facing the fact she may never see her family again. Both Agnes’ priest and her mother mention this as a deterrent to her chosen calling. Agnes herself meditates on this problem twice before making her final decision. It’s also mentioned that Agnes will not be permitted to marry if she becomes a nun. The idea that a young girl doesn’t want to marry and have a family seems pretty incredulous for the Japanese reader. Finally, to help Agnes understand her commitment to the poor, her mother tells her that she sees all people as part of her family and so treats them all as family members. It’s this idea of universal family that becomes a theme for Mother Teresa and her ministry.
The EduManga also focuses on the international aspect of her ministry. I think this is to help the Japanese audience connect to her work better, by showing that her ministry wasn’t just focused in India. They talk about the international recognition she received and the various countries in which she set up ministries. The manga details Mother Teresa’s first visit to Japan. She took the country to task for how much food they waste and how they pass by the homeless and drunk without even a glance in their direction. In her address to a local high school, she tells the students that beginning with their family, they need to show love and kindness to each person they come in contact with. If each person does that, they can help change the world.
The editor was caught napping on EduManga: Mother Teresa. The footnote on page 6 has a sentence repeated twice. There is no “Eastern European Greek Orthodox Church” (page 7). The proper name is simply “The Orthodox Church”; that branch of Christianity is also referred to as “The Eastern Orthodox Church”. (The East here refers to the division of the old Roman Empire and not to modern Europe.) There are two empty narration boxes on page 53. The book refers to Saint Francis as Saint Francisco. Francisco is the Spanish version of Francesco, but Americans know him by the Anglicized version of his name, Francis. I don’t why they chose to use the Spanish variation.
Also on page 141, they say that Mother Teresa never tried to spread Christianity. That’s blatantly false. I think what they meant to say was that Mother Teresa never required anyone to convert to Christianity to receive aid. She may not have been an evangelistic in the traditional sense, but she never shied away from telling people that what she did was in the name of Jesus Christ and for His glory.
Great Figures in History: Mother Teresa
Art and story by Special Academic Manga; Y.Kids, $14.95 US
Great Figures in History: Mother Teresa is written for a Singaporean audience. It’s evident that Singaporeans are more familiar with Christianity and the Catholic Church, since the author doesn’t feel the need to explain any of the religious terms or church offices. In fact, the author of this book seems very knowledgeable about and comfortable with Christian beliefs.
Agnes’ initial understanding of compassion and charity come from her parents, but it’s her personal piety that motivates her to become a nun and dedicate her life to the most destitute. Oddly, the book never mentions St. Francis and effect that his biography had on Agnes’ life. Although her mother is sad to be separated from Agnes, the overall impression in this adaptation is that Agnes enjoyed the full support of her mother and family in her choice to be a nun. Not even the vow of chastity seems strange in this comic.
Y.Kids does a great job of detailing Mother’s Teresa work in India. They spend 2/3 of the book focused on her first 40 years of ministry, and they show how each of her various missions started and developed. They make clear that Mother Teresa’s unwavering passion to serve the poor moved her to continually reach out to each person who either came to her for aid or who she saw had a need. For example, her ministry to lepers began when two lepers showed up at her door seeking shelter for the night. They were on their way to an abandoned village that had been turned into a makeshift lepers’ colony. When she discovered the conditions at the village, she went there with food and medical supplies and set up a clinic and proper housing. Y.Kids shows how the international ministries that Mother Teresa founded were simply extensions of the work that she was already doing in India.
Y.Kids portrays Mother Teresa as a pioneer. Like St. Francis, Mother Teresa wasn’t scared to go against tradition to obey what God called her to do. She was willing to be alone and serve the poor all by herself to be faithful to God. I couldn’t help but think this adaptation of her life was much more individualistic than the EduManga. Even after a community of faith has formed around her, Mother Teresa is always the one guiding the nuns into new directions and leading by personal example. There’s a real sense that one person can make a difference if they are doing God’s will.
Comparing the Two
Initially, I preferred the artwork in the EduManga to Y.Kids. The EduManga artwork is done in the traditional shojo style. It’s pleasant to the eye at first, but slowly you realize it’s actually kind of bland. The artist, Kishida, shies away from depicting any real negative emotions or images. At worst, people look mildly concerned. The leprous and destitute only look disheveled and slightly dirty. We’re given a sterilized version of the horrific sights that Mother Teresa faced. It’s not hard to love and care for the cherubic children and attractive people encountered in this manga. It diminishes the courage and true compassion Mother Teresa possessed.
By contrast, I initially thought the artwork in Y.Kids was simplistic and flat. However, I found it very effective in showing a wide range of emotions, everything from deep joy to heartbreak at the sight of the people suffering. After the first few pages, I had forgotten any objections I had and was absorbed by the story. The artist isn’t scared to show the real effects of homelessness and disease. The poor look filthy and malnourished; you believe they’re truly suffering. The leprous are frightening to look at and the art catches you off-guard. These are people you can barely look at let alone imagine touching, cleaning wounds, applying medicine, etc. Some of this can be credited to the fact that this book is done in full color. The art makes manifest the great deal of compassion and courage it took to minister to these people daily on such an intimate level.
There are some nice extras at the end of each book. EduManga has a four-page question-and-answer section that gives more details about Mother Teresa’s life, especially what it means to be a nun. There’s also a timeline of the major events in Mother Teresa’s life. Y.kids has a cast of characters at the beginning of the book and a page at the back explaining why Mother Teresa is such a significant person in history. Next is a timeline showing the major world events that happened during her life. The last pages are a list of written and internet resources for further study on Mother Teresa.
EduManga is an awkward read. The author is not familiar with Christianity and it shows. I could never get past the feeling this was an outsider looking in and trying to understand Mother Teresa and her faith for themselves, while at time trying to present her life to someone else. Since there are Catholics in Japan, I wish they could have gotten a priest or educated layperson to write this adaptation, someone who has personally bridged the gap between Catholicism and Japanese culture in their own personal life to present this incredible woman’s life and faith.
I highly recommend the Y.Kids manga. I’ll grant you the setup for the book is very hokey. (In fact, it’s probably better if you skip the first four pages all together.) This manga does a wonderful job of telling Mother Teresa’s story. The book reads like it could have been written by Mother Teresa herself or by one of her close friends. They do a terrific job of showing her internal thoughts and motivations. They focus on the right period of her life and show how all the things in her life were interconnected. It’s a well-written and moving book that inspires me to better be a witness for Christ in my own life.