Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Bible and Comics

I teach, along with most members of the Religion department at St Olaf College, a Bible course for first-year students.  This is probably the most important course I teach.

So I'm doing it with comic books.  This Spring, 2013.

Well, not really just comic books.  The curriculum that guides this course states that I teach the major narratives and genres of the Bible, I should also teach the historical-critical and literary interpretation of the Bible along with how communities use this Bible.  This latter imperative is a nod to the cultural and theological life of the Bible so as not to treat it as artifact or as one might in a "Bible as literature" program.  As well as to note that this is not just a course in reading for which any other set of writings might do but that the Bible has sustained contemporary significance.

I've taught various takes on this course in the past. I'm not sure one can expect to have any course fit together in that pleasing sense that one might get from a finished chapter or article.  But I thought it was high time to try something new.

The plan:

1.  The core.  Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics is a brilliant work about reading, interpretation, and meaning in the juxtaposition of text and image. It's not as great as System of Comics by Thierry Groensteen (U of Mississippi Press, 2009)

2.  I have selected several major genres of biblical material and paired comics that somehow embrace the material.  Luckily, there are several Manga that approach the Bible A to Z with some success.  Also, R. Crumb's Genesis is brilliant.  And Rabbi Harvey shall ride again with the wisdom literature.  Unfortunately, Punk Rock Jesus was not available at the beginning of the term.

3.  Introduce the way that comics can alter and adapt the biblical texts.  This can be done well or horribly, good or bad, and develop technical language to aid students to talk about the meaning of biblical texts so adapted.  The final assignment is to select a comic and demonstrate how it uses biblical material, showing what happens to the meaning(s) of the text in its reworking in comic form.  I shall demonstrate how this works with Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and christological texts.

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