Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #318: Outrageous Tales from the Old Testament edited by Anonymous

This book came out of a particular moment, and a particular place -- England, in the mid-80s, during one of its periodic frenzies about "offensive" material in comics form. But it's more generally applicable, to any nation that claims a heritage from an Abrahamaic religion (which includes, I' bet, 95%+ of the people reading this.)

It's a book that was created to make a point. An obvious one, for people who actually knew the truth, but Bible-thumpers are regularly ignorant of many of the horrible lessons contained in the thing they thump.

The title gives it away, of course: Outrageous Tales from the Old Testament. All the murder and rape and war and human sacrifice and "take my virgin daughters instead of my male guest" that can be crammed into 68 pages, by a crew of major and semi-major names from the independent UK scene at the time. The book was edited and assembled by someone, but that person is never named -- it's some editor at Knockabout Publications at the time, but I have no idea who that is.

To be blunt, Outrageous Tales is pointedly saying the the source of a lot of people's moral compass is full of horrible lessons and shocking stories and thoroughly evil deeds, many of them very much in the name of You Know Who. (Almost as if it were a collection of legends from a savage group of desert tribes from more than a thousand years!)

So Neil Gaiman writes a long section adapting a whole bunch of the book of Judges -- one of the ones that doesn't come up much in the modern day, since it's full of horrible things and the main lesson is "do what God says or die horribly, and maybe die horribly even if you do" -- turning it into something very much like an EC Comic. Mike Matthews does the very twisted "host" art for the opening and closing sections, with other artists (including Dave McKean) doing the bits in the middle.

Other greatest hits of the Bible include an Alan Moore/Hunt Emerson take on a long list of "kill people who have fucked in this incorrect way" from Leviticus, with Emerson gleefully depicting a rapidly shrinking Israelite tribe killing their fellow tribesmen who broke each rule in turn. Kim Deitch does a straight adaptation of the book of Job, without any of the rib-nudging of many of the other stories, and it's still horrifying, since Job's is a horrifying story. Brian Bolland has Elisha cursing forty-two boys to be eaten by bears for calling him "Baldy," and Dave Gibbons turns the angels of Sodom and Gomorrah into something like aliens. (Which, in retrospect, seems to be slightly off-message.)

There are a few other stories tucked into the niches in between, but it's not a long book -- only 68 pages, as I said. And it is all pretty much the same tone: can you believe what's in this old book of laws and stories?

I can believe it, but I am the guy who won the Bible Olympics as a teen two years running. (It was a very liberal church, so this material was never an emphasis -- but what teen boy isn't fascinated with the horrible Old Testament stuff?) You may not need this book to learn this lesson. In fact, that's the real problem with Outrageous Tales: the people who most need to learn this lesson will never learn it from a book like this.

But most lessons are like that, aren't they? If they were easy, they wouldn't be real lessons.

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