Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sacrilegious Comics

I don’t think there’s a built-in conflict or controversial element between comics and religion. But, like film, it’s a visual medium, and it invites spectacle. Unlike film, though, it’s far less policed and less corporately involved, so more extreme — and, yes, more sacrilegious — works can make it through to the market. Frankly, being sacrilegious isn’t a bad thing in and of itself; there can still be a great and entertaining story there. There can even be a useful message to or between religious communities. It’s when a work sets out to insult or persecute another group when the line must be drawn. Personally, I don’t think either Preacher or Chosen crosses that line.
- A. David Lewis

This comes from an interview Jeff Jackson did on his Comics Are My Religion column with Lewis.  I think Lewis makes some good points here.  Movies and television shows have millions of viewers and millions and millions of dollars invested in them.  Most comics don't have anywhere near that kind of attention so it is far easier for sacrilegious themes to slip in.  And if they offend, the outcry will be minimal compared to the reaction a movie can get.  Usually, the bestselling comic each month can hope to hit the 100,000 sold mark.  Many tend to stay in the 20,000-30,000 range.  A title that would take the chance to delve into an area that might be labeled "sacrilegious" would likely reach an even smaller audience.  So, yes, it would be much easier for a comic book to tackle religiously unusually themes than a blockbuster movie.

But what about the benefits of sacrilege?  I don't think that's something I've ever typed before.  I think what Lewis is getting at is that portraying God in an unorthodox or even offensive way can shock us out of our complacency and incite us to respond and discuss the matter.  Sometimes I think we, as Christians, can be so committed to our reverence for God that we never take the time to step back and actually ask questions about God.  A blasphemous story can force us to do this.  Such resulting discussion can produce beneficial results.  Remember, it's because of the heresies in early Christianity that the creeds were crafted to outline the fundamental tenets of the faith.

I like that both Preacher and Chosen (or American Jesus Book One: Chosen) show up in this interview.  In my thesis I used both of them as examples of graphic literature addressing theological issues.  Both would be seen as controversial by most Christian readers.  Preacher is about a disillusioned pastor who is on a quest to hunt down and punish God for abandoning his heavenly throne and responsibilities.  Chosen is about a foul-mouthed boy who realizes he just might be the second coming of Christ.  While certainly unorthodox, both works present the reader with theological issues to think about.

Most people would probably otherwise never ponder such issues.

And if you've made it this far, I'll reward you with an awesome picture of Batman.  Thanks for reading, AFB!

Cover to Detective Comics #873. Art by Jock.

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