I am an ambivalent reader of graphic novels. I’m of a generation that remembers when Superman was less muscled, and hadn’t yet died or been cloned. “Adult graphic novel” designated the rumored underground works about Fritz the cat. The amazing boom of the last couple decades of literary versions has led me to works such as Persepolis and Maus. Still, I’m not sure I have the critical equipment to get the most out of these works wedding image and text. Actually, it’s been the wordless versions of narratives (from the recently reissued Lynd Ward woodcut novels to Shaun Tan), which intrigue me most. Most graphic novels just read so darn fast.

Yet is there any other place on earth where word meets art in the context of religion/spirituality with greater heritage and pedigree than Italy? This Italian graphic novel has art by Mattotti and words by Piersanti from Bologna, who is a novelist and screenwriter.

The novel opens with a wordless picture of an overweight guy sitting up on the edge of his bed in the underwear he has slept in. Unshaven, with an untrimmed goatee and a mohawk that seems more born from the necessity of hair loss than style, the protagonist who speaks in first person—relating his tale—is clearly a man living on the margins of his society . . . revealed to be a 41-year-old alcoholic who is occasionally employed, living in a boarding house.

The book moves quickly to the dream vision he has had: called into the presence of a looming, cosmic, God-Child who promises the man that his suffering will soon be over, and that he is now to receive a sign of this promise—bleeding from a single wound in each palm without pain or infection. He rejects this ‘gift,’ which propels the protagonist out of his boarding house, where people have taken to leaving votive gifts of candles and flowers and requests for miracles. He tries first for a medical cure, which brings imposed psychiatric attention, then life as an ordinary person hiding his wounds unsuccessfully. He joins a circus, falls in love with a woman who accepts him for who he is, loses her in a flood. Eventually finds some rest and acceptance of his condition working in a convent, tending the dead for burial and the keeping up the cemetery.

His journey to acceptance involves some reading of hard-core medieval writings from saints who themselves had known the curse/blessing of God’s attention. Yet the reader gets the sense that this book is being written not for the person well-steeped in Christian faith, but instead is a modern-day exploration of ‘what-if,’ a fresh introduction to what an encounter with the Holy might be in our own day and time. If you know Fangraphics, you know they are not a religious publishing house; they would not be bringing out a book of dogma or evangelism.

For someone in the biz, this book is like cat-nip. Ah, the story of the one who did not ask to be chosen (OT figures such as Jeremiah, Job, Jonah), yet who by divine coercion encounters the holy and is transformed. Never mind that within the church-defined and controlled the stigmata has been given not to just hands, but feet and wounded side, and only to those holy enough to deserve the sign. This fellow is chosen, but he is not the figure of the exceptional.

For a reader who knows little or nothing about religious tradition outside the caricatures created through self-promoters of the strident and extreme, by those who abuse their faith and others under the cloak of religion, or by the media this story may very well intrigue, horrify, and maybe even move. It is not a doctrinaire work; it is a human one.


Comments are disabled for this article.

....

Stigmata
By Lorenzo Mattotti and Claudio Piersanti
Translated by Kim Thompson
Reviewed by Grant Barber
192 pages, Hardcover
ISBN: 9781606994092
$19.99
The Subsidiary
The Subsidiary by Matías Celedón
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .

Read More >

Thus Bad Begins
Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías
Reviewed by Kristel Thornell

Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .

Read More >

Death by Water
Death by Water by Kenzaburo Oe
Reviewed by Will Eells

Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .

Read More >

Twenty-One Cardinals
Twenty-One Cardinals by Jocelyne Saucier
Reviewed by Natalya Tausanovitch

Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .

Read More >

One of Us Is Sleeping
One of Us Is Sleeping by Josefine Klougart
Reviewed by Jeremy Garber

We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .

Read More >

Bye Bye Blondie
Bye Bye Blondie by Virginie Despentes
Reviewed by Emma Ramadan

Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .

Read More >

La Superba
La Superba by Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer
Reviewed by Anna Alden

Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .

Read More >