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Monday, February 11, 2008

The Bible as Graphic Novel, and a Samurai Stranger Called Christ

Mr. Ajinbayo Akinsiku says his Son of God is “a samurai stranger who’s come to town, in silhouette. Christ is a hard guy, seeking revolution and revolt, a tough guy,” here to shake things up in his new, much-abridged version of the Bible rooted in manga.

Mr. Akinsiku uses the pen name Siku and grew up in England and Nigeria in an Anglican family of Nigerian descent. Recently graduated from theology school in London, for years he has worked as an artist, and a rendering of the Bible was the best way of glorifying God, he said. He chose manga, the Japanese form of graphic novels.

“We present things in a very brazen way,” said Mr. Akinsiku, who hopes to become an Anglican priest and who is the author of “The Manga Bible: From Genesis to Revelation.”

Publishers with an eye for evangelism and for markets have long profited by directing Bibles at niche markets: just-married couples, teenage boys, teenage girls, recovering addicts. Often the lure is cosmetic, like a jazzy new cover.

Sales of graphic novels, too, have grown by double digits in recent years. So it makes sense that a convergence is under way, as graphic novels take up stories from the Bible, often in startling ways. In the last year, several major religious and secular publishing houses have announced or released manga religious stories.

The medium shapes the message. Manga often focuses on action and epic but much of the Bible, as a result, ends up on the cutting room floor, and what remains is a lot darker.

“It is the end of the World as we know it, and the end of a certain cultural idea of the Scriptures as a book, as the Book,” Timothy Beal, professor of religion at Case Western Reserve University, said of the reworking of the Bible in new forms, including manga. “It opens up new ways of understanding Scripture and ends up breaking the idols a bit.”

While known for characters with big eyes and catwalk poses, manga is also defined by a laconic, cinematic style, with characters often actng more than talking.

“It will convey the shock and freshness of the Bible in a unique way,”
the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury is quoted as saying, in a blurb for the Manga Bible, which is published by Doubleday.

No doubt. In the Manga Bible, whose heroes look and sound like skateboarders in Bedouin gear, Noah gets tripped up counting the animals in the Ark: “That’s 11,344 animals? Arggh! I’ve lost count again. I’m going to have to start from scratch!”

Abraham rides a horse out of an explosion to save Lot. Og, king of Bashan, looms heavy like an early Darth Vader. The Sermon on the Mount did not make the book, though, because there was not enough action to it.

His book has been criticized by some manga bloggers as being too wordy. Mr. Akinsiku said the exposition gave readers a quick understanding of the Bible. His next project is a manga life of Christ. He has 300 pages to lay it out, which means there will be a lot more action, a lot less talking, something like Clint Eastwood in the Galilee.

The Manga Bible sold 30,000 copies in Great Britain, according to Doubleday. The print run in this country is 15,000, and it sells for $12.95.



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