Graven Images: Religion in Comic Books and Graphic Novels

By Nesbit, Thomas | Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, April 2011 | Go to article overview

Graven Images: Religion in Comic Books and Graphic Novels


Nesbit, Thomas, Journal of Religion and Popular Culture


Graven Images: Religion in Comic Books and Graphic Novels A. David Lewis and Christine Hoff Kraemer, eds, Graven Images: Religion in Comic Books and Graphic Novels. London and New York: Continuum, 2010. 366 + xiipp. $95.00 and $34.95 USD ISBN: 978 14415 847 5 (Hardcover), 978 0 82643 026 7 (Paperback)

In Graven Images, scholars and artists examine how religion is employed in comic books and graphic novels. Most chapters offer in-depth analyses of works that incorporate religious themes and imagery. Some contributions argue that graphic novels and comics inspire self-reflection and offer a space where readers can contemplate matters of ultimate concern. Other pieces--including the forward by media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, creator of the graphic novel Testament--suggest that the layout and conventions of comics invite a deep engagement of imagination that borders on the mystical.

Within the collection's twenty-one essays, Graven Images excels at offering sophisticated interpretations of comic books and graphic novels that demand critical attention. For those familiar with comics, it should be no surprise that the collection is overly engaged--albeit not to its detriment--with works from the so-called "Brit Wave" of the late 1980s, when British authors such as Neil Gaiman began displaying a sensitivity to language that traditionally was absent from comic books.

Many chapters in Graven Images refer to works by Alan Moore, best known to general audiences as the author of V for Vendetta and Watchmen. An engaging essay by Emily Taylor Merriman addresses how Moore uses London and the mind in the comic book series From Hell. In their excellent piece "'The Magic Circus of the Mind': Alan Moore's Promethea and the Transformation of Consciousness through Comics," Christine Hoff Kraemer and J. Lawton Winslade theorize on the potentialities open to active comic readers, and offer fresh insight into a graphic novel too often overlooked.

Additional strong contributions in Graven Images include a chapter by Mike Grimshaw, who offers a discerning examination of Garth Ennis' comic book series Preacher. Also of note is Laurence Roth's "Drawing Contracts: Will Eisner's Legacy," which rightly puts the legendary author and artist in conversation not only with Harvey Pekar of American Splendor fame, but also with such acclaimed novelists as Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, and Philip Roth. …

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