NYT’s resident chef Mark Bittman took a break from everything electronic this weekend. Seems Mr. Bittman, like us, has Internet Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and promotes a secular Sabbath — one day a week sans cell phone or modem.
We pondered what we’d do with a day truly offline, and thought — what about manga? This Japanese form of cartoons is deep, mysterious, dramatic, and covers everything from commerce and science to fantasy and horror. Over in Japan, cartoons aren’t just for kids anymore — they’re a $4.4 billion major player in publishing, and businessmen and women read them out in public with no chagrin. If you are going to put down the web for a day, hypergraphic sexual dramatic information overload in cartoon format is probably the closest substitute.
And then, researching manga, we found inspiration: The Manga Bible by British artist Ajin-bayo Akinsiku. The book boils the vast canonical writings of Judaism and Christianity down into 200 colorful pages, showcasing Moses and Jesus as dark, moody superheroes — think storyboards for the film 300, and you get the idea. While the book targeted youths 15-25, it has already sold 30,000 copies in the UK and been embraced by the Church of England.
There’s a historical parallel between the birth of manga in Japan and today’s raucous internet content. Manga started just after the U.S. dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, and Japanese artists such as Osamu Tezuka played with darker themes and illustrations that mimicked the cinema — zooms, close-ups, incredible details of action now seen in films such as The Lord of the Rings and Beowulf. Just as manga broke out of comic frames, when a nation was going through a revolution, today digital communication is leaving mainstream media via blogs and Tweets and videos uploaded by teenage skateboarders. The stiff formality of journalism’s inverted pyramids, nutgraphs, libel laws and leads is morphing into a stronger, grittier realism. The creation process is no longer controlled or edited — now any individual can post to the world. Sure, results can be messy, but the speed with which raw information or inspiration spreads is amazing.
Perhaps communication, at its best, is drama poured from the soul without gatekeeping or heavy edits. We’re certain that the scribes who put down the scripture for Islam, Judaism or Christianity focused more on inspiration than self-censure, without a backspace key. There’s something liberating about looking at the root of an idea.
All we know is that if Peter Jackson had written the Bible, it would have looked like this.
(For intelligent commentary on what happens when religion crosses paths with communication, visit the blog of David Dent.)