For both artists and Christians, community is vital. Granted, there are images of the lone artist pining away in his studio or the penitent woman of God on her knees in her bedroom, but collaboration and fellowship are hallmarks of each of these communities. Being in either of these groups, it is relatively easy to find your tribe. However, being a part of both can make things much more difficult.
My art of choice and training is performance and writing. Many top artists shun the Christian community. Take a look at the backlash to Chris Pratt. Most art within Christian communities is mediocre…at best. One reason for this mediocrity is the gatekeepers of so-called Christian entertainment; there’s a fear to engage in real struggle or to write something covertly Christian.
There’s a reason Switchfoot stopped playing Christian festivals for a few years or why some Christians hate U2 for not being evangelical enough. Christians have learned to settle when it comes to art. Along with the glut of Christian films with uninspiring acting and easily overcome conflict, there’s church on Sunday featuring the same, tired rotation of worship songs that lack depth both lyrically and musically. To me the most Christians film I’ve ever seen isn’t from the Kiendrick Brothers, it’s Lars and the Real Girl; and the most Christian song I can think of at the moment is from the punk band CIV. For a group of people wanting to set themselves apart from culture for God, so-called Christian artists are doing just that, but not in a good way.
So, when a family member sent my 4-year old son a Bible for his birthday this past September, I was not surprised by what I saw. He received the Adventure Bible which seemed more Relic Hunter than Indiana Jones. I figured it would at least have some interesting inserts, maybe some contextual maps explaining the adventures of various characters and the perils they faced. But no. The Adventure Bible is almost anything but. Along with the Biblical text, it does provide some colorful panels that explain what life was like in Biblical times, that further define a skin disease like leprosy or provide a brief character analysis for people like Noah. But an adventure Bible? By no means. Even the explanations are found in most Bibles, just without the colorful inserts. It is representative of the issue many adult Christians have had for a long time: how do we get kids and teens interested in God or church? Similarly, how do I, a father, through prayer and conversations, and ultimately by example, teach my son strong, moral Christian character? Is there a way for this comic-geek, who named his son after the X-Men’s Gambit, to further the representation of God’s written word in a way that honors God’s creative nature? Enter Kingstone Comics.
After two near death experiences, three major surgeries, losing major distributors, and one artist quitting as they neared completion, Kingstone, under the leadership of Reverend Art Ayris, finished the most complete graphic adaptation of the Bible ever. Located in Leesburg, Fl, this Bible is sold in over 100 countries.
There are individual Bible comics which are combined into a 3-volume set with each volume containing over 600 pages of illustrations. Employing over 40 artists, many formerly of DC and Marvel, and using various translations, the Kingstone Bible at times quotes directly from Scripture while at other times adding dialogue appropriate to the context. Numerous Bible scholars and pastors read the Kingstone Bible, declaring it to be an accurate representation of Scripture. Kingstone also features a question and answer series, and a faith series with titles like The Antichrist, Eternity, and Hell. Kingstone also holds a special place for prisoners and juvenile offenders and as such, offers lower prices for their books to these populations. More information can be found on their website.
Once we received the book, I was immediately taken in by the covers. These comics could easily be placed on the shelf of any comic book store. Since the Bible is an extremely violent book, I am gladly reading it before I allow my son to see it. As it turns out, this was a Christmas gift for me as much as it was him! Being only 4, he obviously is just learning to read and he does know several Bible stories, but the illustrations are captivating and can do so much to add to the education he gets at home, in church and at the Christian school he attends. Right now, his favorite story is Jonah being swallowed up by the great fish. After Jonah, there is a page called “A Fish Swallowing a Man” that explains how a sulphur-bottom whale or a whale shark could have been the “great fish” that swallowed Jonah. There are also footnotes found throughout the text. One that I appreciated is on Rahab the prostitute. The note explains that as an ancestor of King David, she was also an ancestor of Jesus. I’ve read Jesus’ lineage multiple times, but only this time, on seeing the drawing of her did I realize a prostitute was in Jesus familial line; that makes quite the statement. Other stories my son and I have read include the creation account, Noah and the flood, and Moses. It may be years before I let my son see certain stories, though if he is like most kids he’ll find a way around that.
There is no lewdness or disproportionately drawn female characters and when it comes to rape, bruises are shown and rape insinuated. In the book, Song of Songs, which describes love and sex, much of the more mature language found in the Scripture such as “Your breasts are like two fawns” is avoided for the more insinuating, “Come into your garden and enjoy its choicest fruits.” The next panel shows the husband and wife in bed, covers pulled up, asleep. Though eight chapters long, and strewn with examples where both the husband and wife speak of each enjoying each other's bodies, Song of Songs is only given five pages in the comic. It is noted that all this “adult” content is for story progression; none of it is done for its own sake.
What about angels? Cute little chubby babies? Definitely not. In Kingstone, there are more traditional adult angels, muscular and sporting wings, but several are golden like Adam Warlock, while others are bright and almost translucent, as if a White Lantern projected them. This last group is actually how they are described in New Testament text.
Ironically, Jesus' flogging and subsequent crucifixion was not as violently depicted as I would have thought. Historically, before crucifixion, a person had his flesh ripped from his body by a device similar to a cat-o-nine tails, but only the device is shown. Being one of the most ruthless forms of torture in human history, this was surprising, though I may have had Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ in my head which was as gory as a horror film. Per the main character Jesus (though the main character is really God, but Jesus is God and there’s also the Holy Spirit), Kingstone depicts Jesus as compassionate when he heals a person of disease, sad when he learns of his friend Lazarus’ death, fiery when he combats the religious hypocrites of the day, and authoritative when he expels demons from the possessed.
As aforementioned, much of the Bible is visceral. There is violence, the supernatural, and even sex. If one didn’t know it was the Bible, it could be, with its supernatural elements, confused for Dr. Strange, the X-Men Inferno storyline, or Thor, or with all the violence and vengeance, The Punisher and The Spectre.
Arguably, what is most engaging in the comic are the images of violence, something many people might not consider when thinking about the Bible. It does not come close to Crossed, and might not go as far as Fatale or the Joker’s face, but it gets close. So what does the Kingstone Bible depict? Well, between 4 and 6 BCE, Jesus was born and a couple years later Herod the Great, fearing Jesus, ordered all children under the age of 2 killed. As a father, this made me tear up. I can imagine a powerful person wanting to harm adults, but harming children? How does such evil exist? Famine and plagues show sick and dying people and animals. Job has boils and sores all over his body. War and death. Another war death. Jesus drives out multiple demons. Then, the book of Revelation. The final book of the Bible has confused and fascinated theologians and laymen alike and Kingstone spends over 100 pages portraying this apocalyptic text. Only the stories of Jesus and Genesis are given more space. The beginning, climax and end of the Bible are thus the most thoroughly explored and represented in the Kingstone Bible.
Revelation begins by providing historical context. Roman emperor Domitian, who blamed every ill on the Christians, feeding them to lions, takes Jesus’ last surviving disciple, John, and exiles him to the island of Patmos, off the coast of Greece. It is here John received the vision of the end times, which is rendered terrifyingly, beautifully, and terrifyingly beautiful depending on the scene. Demonic forces and beasts strive to destroy the world and the people in it, while angelic beings and creatures counter Satan’s forces to bring victory to God. Particularly, John’s vision the four horses of the apocalypse and the destruction each brings, demonic locusts with the face of man and with teeth like lions, and the beast who comes from the earth bring the reader a sense of despair, but this is countered by brighter, heavenly images of a slain lamb with seven horns and seven eyes, and God and his angels preparing for and then going to war. The pace of Revelation is quick, exciting, and turbulent, as the reader anxiously anticipates the battle unfolding.
In no way am I saying the Kingstone Bible should replace regular reading of the Bible. However, living in such a media centric world as we do, visual representations are vital to enhance understanding and provide perspective. Whether religious or not, anyone who is interested in a deeper understanding of The Old and New Testament would do well to pick up the Kingstone Bible.
*The leadership team here at Comic Book Curious would like to say that the opinions expressed in this piece are not the opinions of the whole team. This is one person's opinion and review and should be seen as such.