Nobody who has arrived on this website should feel obliged to read these introductory remarks. They contain nothing that will not be dealt with in due course in the cartoons themselves which follow. However, advanced students of the Bible may want to check for themselves the level of expertise which I bring to my work. That said, if I have been bothered to write this introduction it is not simply to advertise my credentials but also because I have been advised of the necessity to flag up key words so that the Google search engine may be able to identify the site for web-browsers!
I started to produce cartoon books on the Bible (Digging up Parables Volumes I and 11 and Political Parables) in 1980 shortly after the Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative introduced its now famous ‘For Beginners’ series which kicked off with Rius’ work on Marx in 1976. Rius, a professional cartoonist, produced a weekly comic called Los Agachados – The Underdogs – which was read by Mexico’s poor and unprivileged, much to the annoyance of the authorities. He had the brilliant idea of using cartoons to introduce Karl Marx to his readers. Intellectuals he consulted thought he was mad, believing that Marx’s ideas were beyond the range of simple minds but Rius fortunately went ahead anyway. Like Rius’ book my cartoons were designed to make something that was intrinsically challenging and difficult to understand available to everyone. However, I have to say that I was not influenced by what he had done or indeed by any of the books in the ‘Beginners’ series.
I came to cartoons from a different direction. Having completed theological studies in 1968 I went to work for the French Protestant Industrial Mission. There I earned my living as a migrant labourer, receiving my political education on the building sites which at that time fringed Paris. After my expulsion from France in 1973 for ‘political activities unsuitable in a foreigner’ I went to Glasgow, earning my living as a porter-driver in a mental hospital while conducting grass-roots political activities in my spare time in the huge housing scheme (Castlemilk) where I actually lived. My objective was to try and connect my understanding of the Bible with the aspirations of my workmates and neighbours. This was a difficult nut to crack and I had to think about it long and hard as I drove my little van between hospitals in the city. One day as I was going to the transport cafe where I usually took my lunch I saw a scantily dressed, working-class lass of about fourteen buying some literature. This gave me the idea to find out what it was for I said to myself that if she bought printed material then it must constitute a form of literature everyone could appreciate. It turned out to be a war comic-book with a running story of blood and heroism and I suddenly realised what I had to do. I first tried out my cartoons in my trade-union activities. My workmates had persuaded me to take some of their complaints to the hospital management. However, the ensuing negotiations turned out to be somewhat protracted which meant that I had to keep in touch with everyone. This proved difficult since my workmates were all on shifts and I was often absent, driving round the city. I had tried to use tracts but although everyone was directly concerned with the outcome of the negotiation no one would read what I had written. So I decided to use cartoons. I represented the manager and his secretary as Superman and Robin - since they clearly believed they could do anything they wanted - and I portrayed our union office as a WC where the results of our calculations on wages came out from under the door printed on toilet paper. The result was dramatic. Now everyone in the hospital, including some of the patients, wanted to read my material; wards even came to me to complain when the porters inadvertently missed them out!
Having verified that the business of communicating by means of cartoons clearly worked I then turned my hand to the production of cartoon books on the parables. The trouble here was that the cartoon technique proved to be so revealing that it began to draw attention to blind-spots in my own understanding of which I had been, up till then, unaware. After producing three books I eventually had to admit that I did not know enough about the parables, let alone the Bible itself, to pursue the exercise. I had already realised that academic scholars were of no use to me since their writings clearly showed that because of their own ivory-towered existence they had even less of a clue about the Bible than I had. So, twenty-seven years ago I regretfully took the decision to abandon my cartoon books in order to try and work out things for myself. This has meant reading a large number of scholarly works and, while accepting the justifiable findings noted therein, making large-scale adjustments for the way in which false ideological presuppositions lead scholars to draw false conclusions from them. I am happy to say that this task has now been completed and I am free once again to return to my cartoons. However, with the existence of the Web my job is now so much easier for I no longer have to print and distribute my work myself.
My findings, which constitute the scholarly basis for my cartoons, are contained in three works which trace my journey from the parables to the Hebrew Bible and eventually back to Jesus again:
1. Painfully Clear: The Parables of Jesus.
The first of these was published by Sheffield Accademic Press in 1996. The other two I published here myself on this website in November 2008. I have published another of my works on this website. This is a reference work for people who have to preach sermons on the parables. It consists of a brief introductory chapter on the problem of the parables followed by studies of every parable in the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of Thomas.
I am conscious of the fact that my three volumes constitute a considerable read so I have attempted to summarise these findings in thirteen theses. That said, I once again remind visitors to this site that it is not necessary to digest these before turning to the cartoons themselves for everything I want to say will, given time, be dealt with there.