In graphic novel format, this depiction of the last book of the Bible dramatically places us shoulder to shoulder with John The Revelator.
The Book of Revelation
Illustrated by Chris Koelle
Translation: Fr. Mark Arey & Fr. Philemon Sevastiades
Adaptation: Matt Dorff
192 pages, soft cover
I know – you've seen that title somewhere, right? Sure, but you've never seen The Book of Revelation in this form before. Correction: you've never seen it done in this form successfully. There have been some noble efforts at telling the story in graphical form, but they usually fell into one of two categories: 1) the simplistic, inoffensive gospel tract, or 2) the scare-tactic Jack Chick horror comic. Thankfully, this is neither of those - at last, comic book fans (for lack of a better term) have a graphic-novel style treatment of the last book of The New Testament, rendered with style and dynamics in an appropriately dark treatment, with a text that respects the intelligence of the reader.
Matt Dorff created the script based on the work of Mark Arey and Philemon Sevastiades, clergymen of the Greek Orthodox Church (you've gotta' trust a translator named Philemon), who translated from original Greek manuscripts. The script is fresh and fast-paced, replacing the familiar King James verbiage with more modern terms. The slight adjustment in our thinking (for instance, seeing the word 'presbyters' in place of 'elders' or 'four Living Beings' in place of 'beasts' around the throne) snaps us out of our expectations and allows us to open our minds to a new understanding of what we might have already read a dozen times.
Of course, as in film, a good script is no guarantee of a good movie experience – the graphic artist, like the director, has the job of making the words come to life, and Chris Koelle does a masterful job in The Book of Revelation. The temptation with this subject matter would be to go over-the-top with wild, horrific imagery that would overpower the message. Koelle instead works with a limited pallete of blacks and near-blacks and sepia-based tones giving way to reds, amber, and glowing yellows as John's vision moves from earthy happenings to glorious heavenly events.
Not a 'study' book or a book trying to push a particular theology, The Book of Revelation instead brings us emotionally closer to John and how the revelation must have impacted him. There are many references directly to John's expressions of hope, fear, amazement and awe as he sees images that he can comprehend but with ramifications he could not possibly understand.
In a departure from frequent efforts to render John's vision relatable to modern sensibilities, Koelle illustrates what John saw in the context of his (John's) own day. In other words, world rulers are depicted as Emperors and Kings, and more obscure aspects like the flying locust-like creatures that are released from the pit are drawn as close to the Biblical desription as possible instead of being re-invented as the modern one-man attack vehicles of some popular interpretations. At the same time, Koelle never tries to be too explicit or exacting in some of the difficult imagery, opting for a realistic, emotionally evocative rendering style.
Dorff and Koelle have produced one of the first solid Bible-based graphic novels that can stand on its own two feet and command the respect of fans of the medium. What's always been a visual story has finally been done right.