Comic Biblical Book-Endings (Or Lack Thereof)

"Amazing Tales of the Bible: Noah's Ark" by Zachary Kanin in The New Yorker Nov 1, 2010: The Cartoon Issue; pgs. 84-87 (Viewable, with digital subscription, here.)

Humor and imagination can get you a long way.

I've always loved The New Yorker, both for its prose and its cartoons and, increasingly now, comics. They both have the ability to tickle your funny bone and wrinkle your brain. And Zachary Kanin is among the new talents to draft and draw in the footsteps of Peter Arno and Charles Addams as a New Yorker cartoonist.

It seems that since R. Crumb can make a comics adaptation of the book of "Genesis" and get pages of it published in The New Yorker so can any sequential artist. The New Yorker released the first preview the public ever saw of Crumb's "Book of Genesis" project in their June 8th issue of last year: the Summer Fiction issue. (Truthfully, I suspect that it was because of Crumb's successful adaptation of Biblical material that this new work even exists. "If it worked once...!")

Furthermore, comics adaptations of the Bible are hardly a new concept: "The Picture Bible", everything on this site, the SISTINE CHAPEL CEILING. That list goes on forever. That is surely why the title includes "Amazing Tales of the Bible", as an in-joke about the existence of so many crude Bible comics out there.

All that said, Zachary Kanin's short and jocular adaptation of the story of Noah and the flood is far from bad. It's light and fun material and any fan of either Bill Cosby's or Eddie Izzard's hilarious stand-up bits recounting the story of Noah will find much to enjoy here. Kanin packs a lot of great stuff into four pages. Stuff like the two panels in which Noah is revealed to be a nose picker and the narrator declares "Well, not totally righteous" followed immediately by a panel where God says: "But good enough!" The effect is a bit of humanizing while poking fun at a Biblical figure.

The best moment is unquestionably the 'cut-away' image allowing us a peek into the ark, jam-packed with pairs of animals, all squished up against each other. Cartoon reality: bones of all kinds are flexible and pliable in all directions!

Why the damn comic ends with its worst moment I'm sure I will never know, because I'm sure Kanin doesn't know: The story takes a left turn and Noah meets another strange speedo-wearing (hispanic?) vassal of god on the high seas who asks Noah if he wants another wife, because on this other ark there's a surplus. Noah doesn't answer. Then I turned the page... and discovered there was no more to the comic. (Nonsensical and sexist?)

The art is simple cartooning, to its benefit, with subtle grey washes. The simple alterations in the lines of Noah's face giving us a look of determination as he decides if he is to get all his mating pairs he MUST PUNCH OUT A RHINO is a deft use of the tools in the cartooning toolbox. The first panel on the fourth page where Noah's eyes are so large as to be out of proportion to the rest of his face... not so much.

"Amazing Tales of the Bible: Noah's Ark" is hilarious with hit or miss art.

The problem is that, like a lot of New Yorker cartoonists, Kanin just doesn't seem to care about giving his work an ending. He leaves without finishing. It's a problem seen literally a few pages previous with the only other comic in this Cartoon Issue: "Self Effacing Man" by Alex Gregory. It, too, has no ending, but it is a vignette. A short series of three thematically related moments in time. "Noah's Ark" is a series of gags and that's totally fine, but it lacks a final punchline.

A good comic, like any work of narrative art, should have a beginning, a middle and

~ @JonGorga

See what I mean?

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