The Gallery

This Ain’t Your Hippie Jesus’s Bible

Viewing scripture through a glass less dark.

From the Winter, 2012–2013, issue 

(No. 29)

Art by Dave Lapp Genesis 3:3.

The Bible is a strange and wondrous book, filled with startling images and lurid events. Scenes of rape, torture, and mass murder co-exist with ecstatic and hallucinatory visions of divine love. Unfortunately much religious art over the past century or so, especially in North America, has had a tendency to whitewash the Bible’s ominousness, presenting soft-focus pastoral portraits of a blond, blue-eyed hippie Jesus, a pleasant fellow with whom we can happily sing “Kumbaya,” while ignoring his many startling injunctions, such as his call to pluck out our eyes should they cause us to sin.

The cartoonist Dave Lapp’s creepy and wildly imaginative drawings of selected biblical verses are part of a long counter-tradition of alternative cartoonists who have paid the scripture tribute by presenting unsettling images that grapple honestly with the text. Robert Crumb’s Book of Genesis Illustrated made the sheer fleshiness of the first book of the Bible abundantly evident. And Chester Brown’s uncompleted adaptations of the Gospels were notable for showing a ferocious and stern messiah, one who made no concessions to modern squeamishness. Lapp’s work is equally as honest.

Lapp started drawing bible verses nearly a decade ago as a contributor to the Flaming Fire Illustrated Bible Web site, a now-defunct attempt by many hands to illustrate every verse of scripture. He also used them to develop his draftsmanship, which tended to atrophy when he worked in the simplified and abstract style of his comics. In his narrative strips, Lapp often prefers to keep his art subdued so that it doesn’t overshadow the stories he wants to tell. Drawing biblical verses freed up the more daring side of Lapp’s visual imagination, allowing him to create staggering images of skeletons, ghouls, and tormented flesh. “That the Flaming Fire Bible was wide open to all kinds of interpretation from all denominations encouraged my agnostic sensibilities to create images that were more personal,” Lapp says. “I also liked the grand madness of someone trying to illustrate the entire Bible.”

As with the work of his underground predecessors, Lapp interprets the Bible in a way that seems wholly new and unfamiliar, even though it is much more closely rooted in the actual words of scripture than most conventional religious art. His stunning drawings should surprise secular and pious eyes alike.

Art by Dave Lapp “For her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead.”—Proverbs 2:18. Art by Dave Lapp “O lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.”—Psalm 6:1. Art by Dave Lapp “My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O lord, how long? ”—Psalm 6:3. Art by Dave Lapp “Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies.”—Psalm 6:7. Art by Dave Lapp “Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed: let them return and be ashamed suddenly.”—Psalm 6:10. Art by Dave Lapp “And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter.”—Revelation 10:10. Art by Dave Lapp “To deliver thee from the strange woman, even from the stranger which flattereth with her words.”—Proverbs 2:16. Art by Dave Lapp “The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.”—Psalm 18:4. Art by Dave Lapp “And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day? ”—Luke 13:16. Art by Dave Lapp “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.”—Acts 26:18. Art by Dave Lapp “Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the lord.”—Psalm 14:4. Art by Dave Lapp “The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me.”—Psalm 18:5.
Jeet Heer is a cultural journalist and academic whose work has appeared in numerous publications. He lives in Saskatchewan and co-edits the Gasoline Alley reprint series Walt and Skeezix. Last updated winter, 2012–2013.
Previous in this issue
Next in this issue