By Danny Anderson
As a consumer of art, I generally agree with Franz Kafka when he wrote “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us.” I don’t take this to mean that we should avoid books we like. Rather, we should learn to appreciate art that challenges us and pushes us both morally and intellectually. Otherwise the inertia of our lives freezes in time. Therefore, as Kafka says later in the same quote, “a book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”
Art that is explicitly Christian often avoids this approach, settling instead for comforting words or images that gently stroke the Christian ego. There are many frozen seas in church pews as a result. PureFlix style faith-based films (taking their inspiration from the deeply dishonest God’s Not Dead franchise) are prominent examples of this. There are many others, however, including Thomas Kinkade paintings, and any number of CCM artists from the 1980s.
I’m not arguing that Christian art should seek to offend Christians (though that’s not a terrible idea in certain doses). But it should at least surprise them and de-stabilize the settled Christian worldview at least momentarily.
The recent comic book Chronicles of Faith: David the Shepherd, issue 00 is a welcome attempt at such an approach to Christian popular art.
Collaboratively produced by Mercy Ways Comics and Brainy Pixel Productions, the comic is written and drawn by Ivan Anaya, with beautiful lettering by Soffia Flores B. It’s vivid colors are courtesy of Edmundo Landaverde, Marvin Hernandez, and Sofia Gonzalez.
Unlike too many works of art marketed primarily at Christians, Chronicles of Faith’s first issue boasts a vivid and engaging production value. The art, writing, and overall production are first-rate; there is no gap in quality between this faith-based comic and more mainstream comics (Richard Pace and Mark Russell’s recent Second Coming comic comes to mind). The images lean toward an anime style without seeming derivative, and great detail goes into things like the facial expressions of characters, which allow for the images to assist the words in the storytelling.
The concept of the story is delightfully unexpected. Opening at the climax of young David’s battle with Goliath, the reader is lulled into expected a heroic tale of David the warrior. This is interrupted by the comic book equivalent of a record-scratch, as the storyteller (David himself) is interrupted by his young son, Solomon, who wants to hear other stories about his great father.
This is part of the book’s charm, but also part of why it is a welcome addition to Christian art, which could stand for a more expansive view of scriptural texts.
David settles back and tells young Solomon about saving a lamb entrusted to his care from a bear. It is a clever story to begin this series with as it foreshadows both David’s later battles with figures like Goliath, as well as establishing David as a template for Jesus’s life and the metaphors he would later use in his ministry. Furthermore, the sequence is told with a gripping visual style that should be plenty exciting for readers simply at the surface level.
One hopes that this series fulfills the promise of its first issue. I am particularly interested in whether the creators will show the heroic king of Israel in all his complexity. In addition to saving lambs and battling giants, David’s lust also gave birth to violence and tragedy. Will King David tell Prince Solomon the tragic tale of Absalom? Daring to do so, would cement this promising new series’ place among Christian art that might break up the frozen sea of faith.
For more information on The Chronicles of Faith: David the Shepherd, go to Mercy Ways website to read more.
Danny Anderson teaches English at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, PA. He received his Ph.D. in English from Case Western Reserve University. He teaches a range of Rhetoric, Literature, and Film classes at the Mount, including classes on the Jewish American Novel, Flannery O’Connor, Shirley Jackson, Franz Kafka, the Literature of Pittsburgh, and the Classic Horror Film. He also produces and hosts the Sectarian Review Podcast, which investigates art, pop culture, politics, and religion.