Biblical Volume 1 Review
From the cover, it felt like Biblical was directed right at me. "Bible Stories for Atheists, Creationists, Rationalists, & Rogues" - it speaks right to me. I went to Lutheran schools until college, so I was always surrounded by these stories, but the telling of them was almost always lacking. There are a lot of "adaptations" of them, but they're usually some combination of preachy and low-quality.
I wanted to see a movie about Sampson, but done with the style of, say, 300. The rest of the Book of Judges would make a great series of old political action movies. Making Biblical epics has fallen to the occasional movie about Moses since the 1950s.
It's a comic, not a movie, but Biblical is what I want to see. It treats them as stories - no preachiness - and I love it for that. It's far from perfect (you can see Lebetkin learning to make comics as it goes), but I've wanted this for a while, and it doesn't disappoint.
Despite it being exactly what I want to see, it started off confusing me. I recognized the Tower of Babel and the names Esau and Nimrod, but not the exact story being told. Writer/artist Lebetkin is Jewish, so he has different stories to draw on, and this is one of those. Add the confusion to these being some of the earlier, rougher issues, and I wasn't that sure about this comic at first.
Like the storytelling, the art starts off rough. Lebetkin mentions that he intended to find an artist, but that fell through, forcing him to do the art himself. The characters are often drawn in tight, portrait looking shots, working off of photo references. There are also a lot of repeated panels and rougher art, but he makes it feel deliberate. He's not stepping so far outside his skill level that there are glaring flaws, and much of that changes by the second half of the trade.
The third issue is Noach and the flood, but centered on the raven he sends out to see if the waters have started to recede. It's a single, contained story, but like the first in that it's not showing the comic at its best.
Issues 4-6 are the story of Jonah, and this is what I wanted out of this book. It's still not perfect, but much closer to what I wanted to see. In its broad strokes, Jonah is a man who wants to escape his destiny, but can't, no matter what he does. He sees in his dream that Ninveh will destroy his people, but also that he's being called there to help spare them from being destroyed. It's exactly the kind of story that would work outside of the religious context. It's figuring out what you're meant to do, and how to deal with not understanding and trying run from your destiny. This is the kind of theme we love to put in stories, and it's told as a grand, epic story: the storm, the whale, and finally coming to an understanding at the end.
Not to mention the confidence of the story. Lebetkin obviously got better at storytelling as it went, and there's a confidence here that's missing from the rest. The ending took a couple readings to click, but the story really works here. The art improves, the pieces of the story are much tighter, and it reads as a storyteller having a handle on how to tell the story now.
There's a Kickstarter for this trade, so if you're interested in this from my review, check that out. I'm interested in seeing more from here on, imperfections and all. This is the type of story I've wanted to see a lot of my life, and here it is.
(I was provided a review copy of the trade by the publisher. All opinions are my own and not for sale.)