Joe Casey on ‘Jesusfreak’
With Jesusfreak generating controversy, Insights spoke to creator Joe Casey about what he aims to achieve with the new graphic novel.
Presenting Jesus through the lens of a pulp, ‘exploitation’ hero, Jesusfreak depicts him as a violent ‘savage’ similar to Conan the Barbarian and other similar characters. Jesus fights and wipes out scores of Roman soldiers, something that jars with his nonviolent depiction in scripture, but accords with the genre that Mr Casey has chosen. Already, Jesusfreak has met with derision from people who think it sacrilegious for its depiction.
The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) commentator David Brody told Fox and Friends that the book miscast Jesus.
“He’s not a killer, he’s a saviour,” he said.
“It’s one of these crazy comic books and kids are going to read it, and that’s the disturbing part.”
As a mature-aged publication, the title is not aimed at children.
Jesusfreak’s creator and writer Joe Casey is a comics industry veteran whose prior work includes The Uncanny X-Men and Superman. He told Insights that the comic was not for everyone, but was not intended as a slight against Christians.
“We’re not out to offend anyone. This book is meant to do nothing but entertain,” he said.
“Of course, what is thought of as entertainment is completely subjective.”
“What I like might not be what you like. And that’s fine. All I can say about Jesusfreak is that we put a lot of effort into making a quality product. Everyone on the creative team is immensely proud of this book.”
Jesusfreak depicts a younger Jesus struggling to come to terms with his place in Roman-occupied Nazarus.
“I had no interest in retelling stories straight out of the Bible. In fact, I wanted to explore what has usually been thought of as “lost years” in Jesus’ life, his years as a younger man. Then again, I wanted to deal more directly with the so-called “historical Jesus”, the man who might’ve actually existed and was put to death for the rhetoric of his ministry. At the same time, my goal is always to entertain… both the readers and myself.”
Mr Casey was joined on Jesusfreak by artist Benjimin Mara. Its presentation is similar to that of 1970’s exploitation genre comics.
“To fuse the historical research I was doing with a 1970’s exploitation aesthetic just seemed to work perfectly for this book. It gave it a little extra spice that, for me, justified its existence as a graphic novel,” Mr Casey said.
For its violent depiction of Jesus, Jesusfreak presents much of its historical context in a way that is quite accurate and informed by contemporary scholarship about the first century. This, Mr Casey said, was part of what appealed to him about the project.
“I wanted a creative challenge unlike anything I’d ever experienced in my career so far. The research was a big part of that. I’d like to think we took great effort in depicting the geography and the time period and the politics with as much authenticity as we were capable of.”
“Granted, it was never at the cost of narrative accessibility. We stopped short of having the characters speak in Aramaic, even though that was the common language of Judea in the First Century. We stopped short of naming our lead character, “Y’shua”, which again would be more accurate to the period. I feel like I have remind people that we’re not scholars, by any means. We’re comic book creators.”
“But, then again, Pontius Pilate had a specific family history that informed how we depicted him as a character in the book, and his views on the kind of revolutionary speech that Jesus and other preachers would regularly engage in provided a tangible, dramatic threat as a backdrop for our story. We were lucky in that regard, where the research we uncovered perfectly supported the story we wanted to tell.”
The release of Jesusfreak comes on the heels of DC Vertigo cancelling another comic about Jesus, Second Coming (Ahoy Comics has since acquired Second Coming). Another controversial comic about Jesus might seem to be tempting the same fate, but according to Mr Casey, he “was never worried about that.”
“Not in the least. Image Comics stands at the forefront of creator-owned comics and they fully support the creators they work with. Plus, they’re not owned by a big corporation. It’s never surprising when corporate-sponsored art buckles under any sort of outside pressure, but it is a shame.”
In May, the collected edition of Mr Casey’s 2018 series, MCMLXXV, hits stores.
“After that… I’m taking a long nap,” he said.
“I figure I’ve earned it.”
Jesusfreak is now available in comic book stores. It is recommended for mature readers.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor