Jesus’ Origin, with Pictures

Messiah: Origin is the second graphic novel to come out of Zondervan, and it sets out to tell the beginning of Jesus’ life and ministry, through a couple of combined methods. Kai Carpenter illustrates a fresh translation by Mark Arey, and the efforts are to be commended. Taking the Gospels and harmonizing them to paint as complete a picture of Jesus’ birth, childhood and his launching point of His ministry, Arey and Carpenter create an interesting work of art that I think serves as a reminder of the past, while asking questions about the present. Arey comes from the Orthodox tradition, and as such, he comes from a faith that uses art to express itself in worship. This is a bit of a foreign concept to many Western Protestants, but I don’t think it should be. This past decade has seen a serious renewed interest in liturgical artistry (see some James K.A. Smith’s or Constantine R. Campbell’s work), and this is a good foray into that same arena. I can see myself going through this work with my sons during Advent, using the pictures to help tell that famous story in an exciting new way. Arey’s translation does take some getting used to, but it fits well with Carpenter’s style. From a worship and theological perspective, this is an exciting book.

However, there is a flipside to that. As someone who has read comics and graphic novels for most of their life, there are a few things that Zondervan needs to sort out quickly if they are going to continue in this vein. First of all, the cost is very high, especially when I consider that it will be purchased by many people who already know the story. I will pay $19.99 for a hardback copy of the Annihilation series from Marvel because I want to know how it ends. If I want to know how Jesus’ life begins, I can pick up an entire Bible with study notes and maps for the same price. $19.99 is simply too much to ask for a book like this. Size is also an issue. I know that may be nitpicking, but again, I am accustomed to something a particular size and weight when I am reading a graphic novel. Zondervan does a beautiful work up, but I would suggest they study Marvel’s efforts a little bit more before releasing the next volume.

Aside from those very minor practical complaints, I think Messiah: Origin is one of the coolest things I’ve read in some time. My suggestion: if you can find it at a price that is reasonable to you, purchase it as quickly as possible. It is a satisfying journey visually and spiritually.

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