Between the Panels: Paneling God By Lance Victor Eaton (March 2007)
It is no wonder that Christian comic books have risen in popularity over the last ten years. This follows a trend in the publishing industry, following on the heels of such bestsellers as the Left Behind series, The Prayer of Jabez, and The Purpose-Driven Life. And while mainstream comic publishers have their own way of addressing it, it's within the offerings of independent publishers that readers will find the most striking accounts and points of view.
At only sixty-two pages, The Least Among Us is the shortest but perhaps most realistic among these selections. Martin O'Shea and Tony Wright do what few are willing to attempt. They confront unethical practices of the Catholic Church head on, both condemning and revealing the complexity of the issue from within the church. They do not sugar coat but do portray negative effects on the work of those church officials who are innocent and great assets to their communities. Though brief, the story captivates readers with a realistic exploration of the issues at hand. The art focuses on a decent amount of facial expressions and body language, which often suggest or speak more than the characters do.
On the other hand, Video explores what would happen if Jesus made his return via visual media. How would the world react if Jesus returned through televisions and computer screens worldwide and how might it affect His message? The story goes further, to portray a group of friends with differing spiritual beliefs and how they reconcile the return of Christ. In a world gone crazy, how do they come to understand the miracles that are to come? Like The Least Among Us, Video challenges preconceived notions about Christianity and pushes the reader to think more broadly about how we understand religion. It does this without being preachy and with relative respect for religion. But while the use of black pages and background creates a great mood for the book, Stephen Buell's facial sketches leave something to be desired.
The most philosophical and allegorical among this trio, God, the Dyslexic Dog - by Brian and Philip Phillipson and Alex Nino - weaves together history and spirituality into its own mythos of the universe that makes for thought-provoking storytelling. As various beings battle in the cosmos for universal domination, God, the Dyslexic Dog is released on Earth to befriend man and guide him through the years. But numerous supernatural forces vie for power, unsure whether God should continue helping humankind. This story can be a bit more confusing than the others, which has a lot to do with the way the narrative unfolds and the underlying philosophical ideas. The art is also less clear and concise than in the previous two, though this isn't a fault but a central feature to telling such a surreal tale. Overall, it is compelling and provocative with colorful full-page displays.
Doing justice to a religion can lead down a slippery slope in any media. To give it too much positive representation will lead some readers to believe the comic book is just a front to promote the religion. While to shine a negative spotlight may also overlook the importance of religion in society. But these three books manage to balance both criticism and respect for religion; a hard line to walk - and one on which not everyone will agree.
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