Monday, February 8, 2010

How to create a Bible Comic Part I: The Translation

This is the first in a series on "How to Draw Bible Comics." The series will feature basic steps in creating a comic, and special considerations when translating the Bible into this visual language. Over the next three months, I will post the development of a comic translation of a passage and offer ideas and resources for making your own stories. Feel free to join in. Each lesson will have a project for practice. Find a friend and share your work with them. You are also welcome to comment on the posts if you have ideas, questions or topics for discussion.

Let's get started!

I have chosen the story from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2:41-52. The story is a rare glimpse of Jesus as a boy, when his family goes to the temple. The passage has all of the elements of a good story, - a beginning, middle, and an end, tension, drama, human emotion, conflict and resolution. And it is set against a backdrop that is fun to enter as an artist and story teller.

Step 1: Translation
Once the passage is chosen, the next step is to consider how it is translated. The Bible was written in ancient forms of Hebrew and Greek, and words do not always translate on a one to one basis. they can have a variety of meanings based on the context in which they are spoken. One way to get a sense of the variety of meanings in a passage is to look at the same verse in several different bible translations. Websites like The Bible Gateway has numerous tranaslations and tools for word study if you want to go deeper. I also find Great Treasures to be helpful if you are familiar with basic greek and want to learn more.

This passage in Luke is pretty straight forward. Here is my working translation of the passage, based on the greek text.

Luke 2:41-52
Every year, Jesus’ parents would travel to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. And when he became twelve years [old] they went up, as was the custom of the feast. Now when they had fulfilled the days, they returned, but the boy Jesus remained in Jerusalem, although his parents did not know it. They thought he was in the company of travelers and went a day’s journey. They looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances; and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the middle of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. All of the ones who heard him were astonished at his insight and answers.
When his parents saw him, they were amazed.

And his mother said, “Child, How could you do this to us? Can’t you see how distressed your father and I are- we have looked everywhere for you!”

And he said to them, “ Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s things?” But they did not understand the word he said to them.

And he went down with them and returned to Nazareth, and he was obedient to them.
His mother kept all of these matters carefully in her heart.
And Jesus grew in wisdom and age and grace before God and human beings.

Step 2: Decisions
Comics are a primarily visual language. You can tell a story in comics by combining words and pictures, or simply a use a sequence of pictures. When making a bible comic, it is helpful to ask at this stage, how much of the text will I use? Is it possible to use all of it, and let the pictures illustrate the words. Another possiblity is to ask, what can be shown in pictures alone? What would be helped by having narrative in it? and what portions (like dialogue) simply need to be written?

I have color coded the translation above to help sort out these decisions. The words in black represent the portions which may best be described in both words and pictures. The words in blue are portions which I would like to convey solely in the artwork, and the words in red are dialog and phrases that I want have written.

Step 3: Ask Questions
Now that we are becoming familiar with the bible passage, it is good to step back and ask some questions. Who are the characters in the story? Where else do they appear in the bible? What do they do? What comes before this passage? What comes after? Where do the scenes take place? This story takes place in (1) Jerusalem and (2) on the road, a days' journey from Jerusalem. What would the landscape and architecture look like? The story tells us that it is during the Passover Feast, and that people were expected to go to Jerusalem for the feast. You may ask, what is the passover feast? How would you show it in a story? How much do you want to show. This passage indicates that there are many people in the city, and that Jesus family is traveling with a group of people from their region. What would clothes would they wear? What kind of animals would they have traveling with them?

It is also helpful to think about the action in the story. I wonder in this story, how did Mary and Joseph feel when they realized Jesus was missing, and when they could not find him immediately? This is a great place to draw from your own experience of what it is like to lose something. Where did you look? What was it like when you found it? What does the story look like when we see it through the eyes of the boy Jesus, who is engaged in a rivetting dialoge with teachers. What does it feel like to be a child in the eyes of the world, and yet growing into maturity?

Asking questions and searching for clues can really help to flesh out the story, and to make it real for you, and relevant for the readers.

Project #1 Getting into the story
Using a bible translation of your choice, or a variety of translations, write a description of the story. In the margins, write any questions you have in mind. Try to imagine the scene as if it were in a movie. Using your translation, imagination and research, write a one page description of the story.

Next Week: Ways of Writing a Comic Script


'Sola said...

This is very enlightening. I look forward to other posts.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

Thoughtz25 said...

Thanks for the great advice! The upcoming post on writing a script will come in handy for me, as I am in the process of scripting issue #1 of my comic! Keep me in prayer regarding the process...

On a related note, I will shoot you a check in e-mail soon (probably next week) to touch basis. Take care and have a blessed rest of the weekend!