When most people think about comics, they think of superheroes clad in spandex, capes flying in the wind, going about their derring-do.
Yet, in the last two decades of the 20th century, comics transitioned in many ways. Stories were not just about the spandex bunch; they also dealt with realistic situations and compelling stories about people just living their lives.
Harvey Pekar proved that being a government file clerk can be so compelling that you not only publish a comic about your life, but land a movie adaptation as well. His "American Splendor" is both a great comic and movie.
Now, into the comics field comes a "graphic novel" called Testament, published by Metron Press, an imprint of the American Bible Society. Graphic novels are not new to the comics field; they are long-form comics that tell a single story using graphic storytelling as the medium.
Last year, Kyle Baker did a treatment on the story of David. This year, we have Testament, a retelling of much of the Old Testament. Yet the story is not told in a church or a synagogue.
It is set in J.J.'s Bar. An unnamed patron comes in, takes a stool and is asked, "What will it be?" But the bartender serves up more than drinks; he also serves up stories. So, while our customer makes up his mind, the bartender spins a yarn of an author who created a story by speaking into existence the idea he had for it. The story is creation, and we meet two characters integral to the story: Adam and Eve. Their story acts to affect the other stories and, by extension, our story.
The bartender also mentions a character in the story who did not like being created and wanted out of the story. So that character tempted Eve to eat the fruit that the author told her not to. Adam also eats the fruit and, with the fruit eaten, a poison grows through the story and affects the characters. As the story progresses, we see the author act to help the characters.
Testament does two important things. First, it tells many of the stories of the Old Testament without a heavy hand of doctrine and dogma. The stories here allow the reader to do something that all good stories do: find a place within the narrative and then live within it. One of the beautiful ideas present in Testament is the power that the author gives to those who have been affected by the poison: The antidote is to say, "I'm sorry."
Secondly, the setting does something important: It allows us to see the power of that gathering place. When I was in seminary, Dr. Alan Neely told us that he regularly went to the bars of nearby Raleigh. He did so because people in the bars were looking for what many in the church were looking for: belonging.
Testament allows us to see a person searching for belonging in a bar—and finding more than that. He finds meaning. And that was God's purpose in creation: To give us the meaning that we search so hard for. The meaning God wants for us is to live our lives within the confines of his love and grace. Testament tells this story such that we don't have to sift through much of the theological baggage we carry.
Luggage, it has been said, is one of those things that we buy, but never throw away. Testament gives us the biblical story without the luggage. And maybe in its telling we can find our way down to the theological landfill and throw away some of that useless baggage.
Testament is written by Jim Krueger and illustrated by a host of comics' finest artists who draw different chapters of the stories. It is not a Sunday school quarterly, but it does give us truth that can affect us to the very marrow of our existence.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
Order Testament now from Amazon.com