Illustrated Bible chases ‘ever-changing’ youth culture

Published June 1, 2008

If the word “manga” sounds the least bit mysterious or alien to you, then chances are that you do not have a son or daughter between the ages of 10 and 16.

The word is a Japanese one that can be literally translated as “whimsical pictures” but is used in the modern context to refer to the vast, varied and complex phenomenon of Japanese comic books. These squat, monochromatic little volumes play an intrinsic role in Japanese popular culture that might be difficult for an outsider to understand. The influence they have over everyday life there far exceeds what has been granted to their Western counterparts. In this part of the world, up until only a few years ago, they were the concern only of the dedicated geek whose thirst for lurid pictures couldn’t be satisfied by the local variety of superhero comics. It is only relatively recently that the tide of imported manga and manga-related products has burst free from the world of specialists to engulf an ever-growing part of our children’s media-scape.

It is necessary to know this if one wants an understanding of just what The Manga Bible represents. The introduction makes it clear: “The Manga Bible is an adaptation of the Holy Bible … in graphic novel form. … [We] hope that [it] will inspire you to read more of the full-text Bible.” Right away it is clear that this is yet another effort made by some Christians to ensure that the Word keeps pace with ever-changing youth culture. So here it is: everything from Genesis to Revelation crammed into 200 pages of highly stylized, action-packed paneled layouts, interspersed with speech balloons filled with a super-fast, hip, “young” lingo. (Cain: “Whassup bro? I’ve got something I want to show you in my farm.” Abel: “Sounds interesting … What is it?” Cain: “Your death, you smug *$!@%!”) Regardless of one’s feelings towards undertakings like these, the underlying motive has a definite impact on the content. In this case, quite a negative one.

[pullquote]Strictly speaking this volume is only manga-ish. It is not Japanese for one thing, but was originally published in the UK. This is primarily evidenced by the fact that one reads this from left to right instead of vice versa (de rigueur for the “real” thing). Japanese manga also has an unmistakable style of figuration and its unique visual idioms for depicting action are only hinted at by the work of artist Siku. Every figure throughout is drawn in a sharp, angular style that, more than anything else, outs this work as a product of the Western lineage of comic art. And no good manga would squeeze so many words on each page. It is not only Japanese taste that is offended by such visual clutter.

The “Walt Disney” of Japanese manga is certainly Osamu Tezuka who pioneered the medium in the ’60s with his Astro Boy manga. In 2003, his epic work Buddha was serialized in English in eight 300+ page volumes. Obviously a product of immense labour and love, the many meandering story lines, sumptuous artwork, and the powerful emotional impact of the subject matter, make for an irresistible and completely unself-conscious invitation to the spiritual life for young people. Surely the Bible deserves to be celebrated – not sold – in at least as fine a manner.

Christian Whittall is a Toronto writer.


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