Saturday, September 11, 2010

Graphically illustrated children's Bibles

I had an email this week from a 'Jenny' in Indiana who is trying to get hold of a children's Bible which she owned as a child in the 70's. She describes the Bible in question as having "..the most graphic illustrations imaginable. By this, I mean that our mother eventually cut out the picture of John the Baptist’s head being served on a platter!" Jenny goes on to describe a picture of "Solomon holding a baby up by the heel with a sword ready to cut it in half." also a "...dreadful illustration of the murdered babies in the slaughter of the innocents."
They don't illustrate Bibles like that anymore! No, really, they don't!

Jenny, who wants to get a copy of this Bible for her brother who's now a pastor, closes her email by saying "Now that I have kids (ages 4 and 6), I am pretty sure I’m glad that most of the Bible story books we have now are much more tame!" If you think you might know which children's Bible Jenny is describing, or how she might get hold of a copy, please leave a comment or send me an email which I can pass on to her.

The early 80's was probably the last time that we see really graphic images in children's Bibles. The image above of David holding Goliath's severed head is from The Great Bible Discovery series published in 1983. It's hard to imagine a publisher re-printing images like this today, but will the sugar-coated Bible illustrations of today be as memorable? I also wonder if the trend to move away from a realistic Bible illustration style is because the publishers today associate this style with the more explicitly illustrated Bibles of the past?
Look forward to hearing your comments.
Image © OM Publishing 2010

15 comments:

Paul Green said...

If I was a publisher and wanted to reach a teenage readership I would definitely encourage graphic illustrations of Bible stories. With today's youth hardened to violent horror films, video games and manga comic books it's riduculous to sugar coat Bible stories. And what's more it isn't fiction - so why the hiding behind PC imagery?
Jesus suffered on the cross. He didn't die in a perfect picture pose with drops of blood oozing from his wounds. He was literally covered in blood. His suffering needs to be emphasized. Not to do so is to belittle his sacrifice.
The more we hide behind pretty pictures where suffering existed the more we deny the truth.

Paul Green said...

Graphic depictions of Bible stories in the form of the popular style of the day seems a sensible way to involve the youth.

I read today that according to a poll by The Guardian newspaper only 17% of people in Britain believe God exists. Noted British atheists such as Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins worship the god of science. Hawking's delusions of self grandeur now include the ability to pretend to comprehend how the Universe began. In fact it denies God. It's laughable that a brain less than the size of a grain of sand in the scale of the Universe can prounounce God dead. The ego has no boundaries. According to Hawking the Universe just created itself and all of creation just fell into place. Yeah - that sounds credible. As credible as a bunch of bricks magically falling into place to create a house. I guess according to Hawking's genius "Stuff just happens!"

Off topic Graham but I had to talk about this.

mattybake said...

I wonder if she's referring to the Children's Bible published by Golden Press, the one with the blonde Jesus? When I was a kid some of the pictures really freaked me out. Although there is no picture of John's head on a plate, I wonder if there was in previouse ditions, as my copy is the 22nd printing, 1975, so maybe previous printings included more graphic pictures? I think it was first printed in 1962. The picture of Jesus being tempted by Satan (complete with gotee, horns and goats legs) freaked me especially as a kid.

Deboraw said...

Graham, During the late '6o's early '70's there was a song I've always thought was interesting. It was called,"Momma Told Me Not to Come". There were several lines in it that stuck out, like: "I've seen so many things I don't wanna see no more". Maybe I've misquoted it, but...I've seen sickness, sorrow, death and dying. For those youth, hardened by violent horror films, video games, etc. maybe they should come out of their ivory towers and join the military. Pictures of young soldiers carrying bleeding children to safety, giving up so much of their lives, indeed in some cases even their very lives.

EMT's that work in the ambulances see similar things. So many sad things. Working in foreign countries gives one a different perspective on life.

I believe that as a Bible illustrator it is a very difficult line to walk. Attempting to teach scripture--because the Bible is an accurate history of real people in real places--in such a way as to inform w/o going beyond what is acceptable. Or in other words telling the indelicate things delicately. (For instance, Adam knew his wife, or Potiphar's wife said 'come, lay with me'...)

Of course I deal mostly with the young children that haven't been exposed to the violent stuff, and I do think that there is a time when people need to understand reality. I never felt the need to view the movie, "The Passion of Christ". Having been where I've been, seen what I've seen, I understand as far as I want to know the sacrifice.

A person has to ask themselves what the purpose is to what they are illustrating. For instance I can come up with 'hand work' and illustrations that entertain and almost sing and dance. I'm not there to entertain my children, however, but to teach them scripture and Bible. I don't want them to leave my class saying 'Wow! Isn't that teacher wonderful!" I want them to leave the class singing "Jesus loves me" or "Our God is an Awesome God".
So, it really is a difficult task and I think one that all who undertake it must do with prayer and thoughtfulness.

Patrick said...

Mr. Paul:

I read today that according to a poll by The Guardian newspaper only 17% of people in Britain believe God exists. Noted British atheists such as Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins worship the god of science. Hawking's delusions of self grandeur now include the ability to pretend to comprehend how the Universe began. In fact it denies God. It's laughable that a brain less than the size of a grain of sand in the scale of the Universe can prounounce God dead. The ego has no boundaries. According to Hawking the Universe just created itself and all of creation just fell into place. Yeah - that sounds credible. As credible as a bunch of bricks magically falling into place to create a house. I guess according to Hawking's genius "Stuff just happens!"

On a less serious note: I've actually read one comment on this somewhere. I'd paraphrase it: "Old age is when good physicists turn into bad philosophers." ;)
On a serious note, we need to pray (hard!) for everyone, especially these people.

Patrick said...

"Jesus suffered on the cross. He didn't die in a perfect picture pose with drops of blood oozing from his wounds. He was literally covered in blood. His suffering needs to be emphasized. Not to do so is to belittle his sacrifice.
The more we hide behind pretty pictures where suffering existed the more we deny the truth.
"

Oddly enough, I'm actually desensitized to Biblical violence partly because of Jesus films in my youth. I was born a good twelve years before Mel Gibson directed his The Passion of the Christ, but as a child, I'm actually become quite used to the 'Passion violence' of the films, however mild they may seem to be: blood and gore doesn't freak me out much, because I've seen Our Lord get pummeled and have thorns and nails driven to His body quite a few number of times on the screen (and you have to remember that in the old epics, Jesus hardly seems to be actually injured! ;)). So, yeah, unfortunately, when Mel's film came out, I admittedly didn't have much of a reaction unlike other people (something I very much regret).

You make a good point about prettifying the Bible though. I do agree that the Bible as a whole is hardly a G-rated book and thus some things need to be toned down a bit when relating the stories for young children, but I think that overdoing it contributes to the reaction some people have when they finally have the chance to read it for themselves: they're so used to the watered-down version that when they read THE Bible, they're shocked because its, erm, graphicness in some areas.

Admittedly, when I draw Biblical events (I do once in a while) I don't really try 'sugar-coat' them. Perhaps one can compare me to Lawrence Alma-Tadema: I want to show things as close as possible to how they could have happened (my nit-pickiness may contribute to that). And that means I don't prettify my pictures, even if it becomes pretty graphic. For short: I'm absolutely not qualified to be a children's Bible illustrator. :p

Deboraw said...

Patrick, I'm not qualified either, but not because of my illustrations...but my lack of talent. LOL

Deboraw said...

Patrick, Another thought-- in the times that the Bible covers life was what might be termed 'raw'. In our 'civilized' society we don't have the sights, sounds, smells of everyday living as they did at that time, and indeed even as the 'third world' countries do today. No one has been beheaded and hung on our city wall for quite some time. Even the horse thieves don't get their just retribution in the U.S. (Actually, they've all moved to Washington, D.C. and instead of horses they steal our money.) For the most part folks in our country go about their every day lives sort of in those 'ivory towers'.

The scriptures are interesting in so many ways, one of which is where and what they choose to emphasize. Perhaps it is because people lived in the real world at that time it didn't often go into the 'gory' details. Just stated matter-of-fact that it came about. In those days people knew how horrible crucifixion was, just as a century ago Americans would have known how awful hanging horse thieves would be. Hmmm...

A number of years ago people were so excited about comic/cartoon version illustrations. Now, it seems that people are wanting pictures that portray real people. In my case I want my students to understand that the scriptures are real and about real people. A woman teaching at one of my first teacher's workshops told us 'don't refer to the Bible lessons as 'stories', it puts them on the same level as fairy tales and the such like'. I've never forgotten that.

How to make things more real. That's an interesting problem. I don't think more graphic illustrations is quite the answer. I'm thinking about an acquaintance of ours (from Ipswich, by the way) who during the first Gulf War was reportedly giving tours of the desert over there...maybe Bruce could get something 'real' going for interested parties? What do you think? LOL

Del said...

Graham,

The images described remind me of two books illustrated by Angus McBride.

Life of Christ (very accurate...and I would tend to edit the John the Baptist piece)

and Bible Stories (a little lighter in tone but has a fairly harrowing illustration of Solomon and the two mothers).

Both are sadly out of print but can be found on the web occasionally.

By the way, appreciate your blog very much!

Bible artist said...

Paul:
You make an important point here Paul that graphic illustrations are best suited to a teenage readership. There are illustrated Bibles starting to appear which are aimed at the teenage market but the imagery is still very PC compared to the children's Bibles of the past.

On the subject of Stephen Hawking's latest comments - it was interesting how the BBC Radio 4 broke the news. They made out as if Hawking had changed his mind regarding his views on the universe suggesting to the listener that he might now be considering the Biblical viewpoint. Of course anyone who knows the BBC knows that, if that was the case, the BBC wouldn't even be reporting it! We need to keep praying for Hawking and Dawkins!

Mattybake:
Hi Matt, I don't think that the version you mention has been edited. I'm almost certain that earlier versions that I've seen are the same, so I don't think it is this one. Not many children's Bibles show the decapitated head of John the Baptist!
I have commented on the depiction of Satan in this Bible in the 'Drawing the Devil' post. check it out when you get a minute. Good to hear from you!

Deboraw:
Very good points Deboraw! We need to be tender and careful at the same time especially when preparing pictures for little folk. We don't want to be graphic for the sake of being graphic but sometimes we need to get across the solemnity of some stories without going into detail. It is a balancing act. You're right, we do need to always be mindful of what it is that we want to get across in our pictures - being prayerful about this is good advice, thanks Deboraw.

Patrick:
"Old age is when good physicists turn into bad philosophers."
The same could be said for naturalists! David Attenborough seems so desperate to find the 'missing link' that he throws his whole intellectual weight behind any claims to have found one, no matter how unlikely!

Deboraw #2:
It might be that because we don't live in such 'raw' times that graphic illustrations are not as acceptable as they once were - interesting thought.

Del:
Thanks Del, yes I had forgotten that the Angus McBride Bible does show John the Baptists head on a platter!
It was first printed in 1981 though so this is still probably not the one that Jenny owned.

mattybake said...

I have never heard of Angus McBride, so I just googled him then, and whoa! I've been missing out! This guy is the bomb yo!! I foresee in my near future a lot of time being wasted checking out as many of his illustrations as possible.

Bible artist said...

I agree Matt. He did a lot of work on military uniforms some of which are very helpful to the Bible artist.

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone

As curiosity:

The image of your article is from a bible in comic, titled in spain "descubrir la biblia", discover the bible, and is art from ne of the greatest european comic authors, Serpieri.
I have this great edition, 8 tomes with some of the greatest comics drawers, like Victor de la Fuente. jose bielsa etc.
This is an article about this edition:

http://elblogdelrincondetaula.blogspot.com/2006/09/descubrir-la-biblia-un-puado-de-buenos.html

Fer

Bible artist said...

Thanks Fer!
The best way for non Spanish readers to read the article above is to copy and paste the link provided into the Google search box, then search, then click the 'translate this page' option which appears in blue text.

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