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Why the lives of the saints make excellent comics

All children love (or used to love) reading comics; pictures, action, strong story-line without too much tedious prose. I was always filching my brother’s copies of Eagle, as well as The Dandy and The Beano whenever I could find them. Once someone brought along a graphic version of Kafka’s The Trial to a session of our book club; I was mesmerised. Yes – very different from the prose version, but utterly absorbing nonetheless. I think Kafka would have understood: his pitiless exposure of malign bureaucracy reduced to its starkest, most ominous black-and-white essence.

I say all this because I have just been reading The Mission of Joan of Arc, written by Philip Kosloski, published by Voyage Comics and Publishing (2019) and intended for ages 9 upwards. Turning saints’ stories into graphic accounts in this way works; Catholic children get to know the lives of the saints quickly and easily – especially as such lives are often highly dramatic and full of miracles and visions, best captured in images. There is time enough to immerse oneself in prose accounts later on; in St Joan’s case I would recommend Mark Twain’s life of this extraordinary girl, which he always regarded as his favourite book.

Kosloski has been very influenced by the play written by St Therese of Lisieux for her French Carmel, in which she acted the main part. St Therese emphasised the roles played by Saints Michael and Catherine in Joan’s growing understanding of her mission and destiny – aspects which are often underplayed in modern accounts of her life. For Therese, the close friendship of saints would have been obvious; an intrinsic part of an intense spiritual life. For Joan they were critical to her story – one of the most improbable and amazing of all saints’ lives.

Indeed, the story of this illiterate peasant girl from Domremy who rose to command the French troops as they battled to expel the English from France in the Hundred Years’ War would be incomprehensible without divine aid supporting and guiding her all the way. Secular people will dismiss her visions and voices as evidence of an unsound mind – not grasping that to communicate with soldiers, organise them in battle strategy, earn the respect of their officers and the trust of countless people, including the King of France, demonstrates a personality that is unusually (one might say, supernaturally) alert, practical, courageous and confident.

This first issue of Joan’s story is part 1 and ends at the siege of Orleans where she was wounded. The style of the art-work is suited to a 21st century’s child’s imagination: St Michael is superbly extra-terrestrial, awesome in his gleaming armour and authority as he bestrides the clouds. My only criticism of some of the frames of Joan herself is that they distort her features in an exaggerated way and don’t properly convey her purity, her charm and her sense of purpose. Mind you, that is a challenge for a graphic drawing.