Lost & Found

A comic book writer discusses faith and stories

A few months ago, a friend graciously invited me to attend an Easter service at the church of her preference. It was an olive branch—an offering of communion to someone she knew to be wildly secular and thus wildly alone during the long weekend. I balked a bit, reminding her via gentle caveat that I am a devout atheist; I believe in Darwinian evolution, graded ramps of progress, and, through a scientific consciousness-raising predicated on those two notions, the profound absence of a guiding hand in the way the world operates. But I ultimately assented, happy to be thought of, and fully aware that I’d likely disagree with every word of the sermon.

The church was a modest affair, a borrowed space utilized by a number of local Presbyterian groups seemingly without alms to fund a proper home. The congregation was, for lack of a better word, scruffy—an amalgam of Brooklynites boasting tattoos, consignment clothes, and interesting hair. I suppose I was an alien two-fold. But, all told, they seemed a tender bunch, buoyed by their faith and enthusiastic about their communal gathering in celebration of their death-defying Messiah. (I insist that this is in no way meant to be interpreted in the pejorative-sarcastic sense, as I think will be more clearly indicated a little later).

The sermon held all the typical trappings of Easter storytelling: the crucifixion, the despair, the empty grave, the zombie. It was, more or less, much like many other Easter sermons I have heard or read through research and a variety of other gentile invitations I’ve accepted over the course of my life.

There was, however, one poignant moment, the denouement and overall message of the sermon, that made my ears perk, thrusting me forward in my seat, probably drawing the attention of both my host and the other members of my pew. The sermonizer was calm, with a sort of mawkish soprano voice that seemed to belie his station in the hierarchy. Though not verbatim, it went something like this: All you need to do is recognize the inexorable and unequivocal truth of the resurrection, and you will be lead to take Jesus into your heart. There is no denying that this man, once dead, rose from the grave. And since no one can deny that happening, because it most definitely happened, everyone, whether they know it or not, has taken the first step towards salvation.

This was, disregarding its fallaciousness and oversimplified conceit, something I thought to be absolutely brilliant. He was saying, on a certain level, all you have to do be saved is understand that this fiction is a reality. If you take a story, something not so concretely engraved into historical annals, and understand its binary value as true, then you are on the righteous path. Moreover, everyone understands that this story most certainly is true, and thus we’re all “getting there,” in our own way. It was magical to watch/hear—he seemed to be performing some sort of alchemy or reverse sublimation, transforming the gaseous matter of an a priori occurrence into a solid, densely moleculed version of the truth. Science, as it were.

I’m an atheist, as stated. But even more heretical and loathsome is my identity as a comic book writer. I currently pen a book called Judah, a fantastical/mythological romp positing that Judas and the twelve apostles were cursed with immortality for failing to save the son of God. They have thus roamed the Earth, essentially becoming a cadre of weirdos, for centuries ad infinitum. Considering my scientific predisposition, and well-known lack of rearing in the ways of biblical lore, writing this book requires an exhaustive amount of research on my behalf. I’ve read the Bible, countless versions of such; I’ve studied the Gnostic gospels, the Acrostic gospels, the George Carlin gospels; I’ve read innumerable fictions regarding the position of Christ (and those possibly better suited for the job) as Messiah. I am, for all intents and purposes, knee deep in scripture, constantly learning new things, new merits, new plot holes, new pratfalls, and new stories of the most sacred text on the planet. And though he might disagree, I believe I do the same thing that diminutive sermonizer suggests: I alchemize a fiction.

Now, I’m not indicating that there is any historical truth to the tale of an immortal apostle grueling his way through demon transvestites and rapacious gnome-librarians, all towards the mission of dispatching himself. (At least, no more truth than that of man rising from the dead and ascending). It’s a fantasy story after all; I’m creating a world. But I think there’s something to be said about the alchemy of fictions; the rendering of a fantasy, either in rhetoric or pen-and-ink, as something veracious—a living, breathing, happening thing.

That was sort of the idea with Judah. What if we took all that magical stuff as the truth? What if it just happened? Well, if it did, wouldn’t it occur in the same sort of world where naughty British children stumble through a wardrobe into a magical realm, or at the very least, share some sort of fictive real estate with monsters and mutants? Simply put, if one magical thing must be real, then shouldn’t all magical things?

I’m reminded of two Borges quotes (who, by no coincidence, greatly inspired Judah with his fictional meta-essay “The Three Versions of Judas.”). The first states, “What good is a story if it isn’t true?” The second, diametrically perhaps, “Reality is not always probable, or likely.”

Both quotes, in the labyrinthine dialectic perfected by the Argentinean goliath, seem to speak to the well-flogged notion of the confluence of actual and fictive worlds; we are, for better or worse, exiled to the borderlands between the two nation states, living in a very real, but ultimately very surreal playground of joy, rapture, horror, and the absurd.

I sat in awe of the sermon’s coda, not converted by any means, but awakened to the harrowing congruencies between faith (or belief) and disbelief (or, maybe more precisely, an acknowledgment and full-fledged enjoyment of fictional worlds—which, of course, relies heavily on a judicious suspension of one’s disbelief). So that’s all it is, I thought. Some reality chemistry—two drops of liquid skepticism, four parts fantasy, seven sprigs of selective dismissal, and a mortar and pestle mashing the bits together; cold hard science resulting in a mythological world taken as the Real McCoy, if only for a moment.

I may not be a Christian, but on these grounds, I most certainly am a McCarthian, a Borgesian, and a Chabonian. I expressed these feeling to my friend who responded, rather aptly, “I believe that Jesus speaks to us through narrative.”

And as a raspy Faulkner character calls to me from the pages of a book, as Lester Ballard scares me from the murky black waters of Child of God, as Denis Johnson taps out Morse code through the dot-dashes of waifs, mendicants, and fiends, I find myself buoyed by my own faith, just like the congregation. A man of science, a man of fantasy. A man who renders biblical characters as gluttons, pimps, and honorable chaps. A man whose fictions must be real, because it’s the only path to salvation he knows.

My point is that whether in a comic, a sacred text, or a tidy State of the Union address, we are forever creating our own realities. We forge fictions, bring the two-dimensional into stunning 4-D corporeality. Our minds are great Think Machines, capable of taking the most far-fetched of cartoony inanities and transforming them, irrevocably, into something we can believe in or rely on. I am not a man of God, this much is true. But I am a man of stories—a willing lab assistant in the great scientific experiment that is storytelling, fashioning a world of escapism and intrigue in direct opposition to the a posteriori. Though it never happened, I imagined pulling the man standing before the congregation aside, and telling him that he was doing a good job. “You’re getting there,” I told him. “You just need to add some more lasers and dragons to get me on board.”

Read pages from Judah and find out more about the author at judahnowandforever.blogspot.com

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