New York: Ajinbayo Akinsiku wants the world to know Jesus Christ—just not the gentle, blue-eyed Christ of old Hollywood movies and many illustrated Bibles.
Akinsiku, who hopes to become an Anglican priest and who has authored The Manga Bible: From Genesis to Revelation, says his Son of God is “a samurai stranger who’s come to town, in silhouette,” here to shake things up in a new, much-abridged version of the Bible rooted in manga, the Japanese form of graphic novels. “We present things in a very brazen way,” said Akinsiku.
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. During 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. Much of the Bible, as a result, ends up on the cutting room floor, and what remains is darker.
“It is the end of the Word 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 doing more than talking.
In a blurb for The Manga Bible, which is published by Doubleday, the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Rowan Williams, is quoted as saying, “It will convey the shock and freshness of the Bible in a unique way.” 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!”
The Manga Bible sold 30,000 copies in Britain, according to Doubleday. The print run in the US is 15,000.
Akinsiku said 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.
©2008/The New York Times