Earlier this week, we spoke with Apocrypha Now writer Mark Russell about the genesis behind the irreverent take on some of the lesser known Judeo-Christian texts. Recently, the title’s artist Shannon Wheeler describes how Apocrypha Now differs from his and Russell’s earlier work God Is Disappointed in You and how that collaboration informed their new work.
FreakSugar: How would describe Apocrypha Now to folks looking to pick it up?
Shannon Wheeler: I say Apocrypha Now is the retelling of stories written at the same time as the Bible but left out of the Bible. The stories use the same characters: Christ, Judas, Mary, etc. It’s obvious why many of the stories were omitted – they’re weirder, more pagan, or feminist. In a lot of cases, they’re simply more interesting than the stories included in the official Bible.
FS: Did the creative process differ any from your previous collaboration with Mark for Apocrypha Now?
SW: There was less direct reference to the source material in this book. Everyone knows the story of Jonah, and that knowledge gave me a good basis for a gag. About half of the material had new characters — The Two Watchmen, Ben Sira, etc. — and those stories were harder to write. Anytime I had a problem I’d hit Mark up for ideas – he knows all the stories backwards and forwards. He made for a great collaborator.
FS: Did the response you and Mark received for God Is Disappointed in You change how you approached Apocrypha Now?
SW: The stories were weirder so I allowed myself to be weirder. Mary tells the secret origin of the universe and flames fly out of her eyes and mouth. That’s a great set-up.
We received such a positive response from doing God is Disappointed that it gave me confidence to be funnier with the Apocrypha. A cartoon like “Nailed it” (said one roman to another in front of a crucified Jesus) I wouldn’t have run in the first book even though it’s funny. This time I had the confidence (or foolishness) to include it. I’ve always hated that expression too.
FS: Does your own religious background impact how you approached tackling these stories?
SW: I’m interested in religion, history, myth, and storytelling. I don’t have religious baggage. I neither love nor hate religion. Mostly, it feels like I’m looking into a curious fish-bowl and talking about the fish.
I went to Jewish camp when I was a kid. The Old Testament was oddly familiar. I knew a lot of the stories already. I had a better knowledge of the Bible than I’d thought. In addition to that, the Bible, both old and New Testament, is a big part of western culture. Not only are the stories directly adapted in movies like the 10 Commandments, but they’re indirectly adapted in popular culture shows like Buffy and Supernatural.
FS: Are there any pop culture touchstones you looked to that influenced your work for Apocrypha Now?
SW: I looked at Crumb’s Genesis for costume ideas – though I hear he looked at sword and sandal movies from the 50’s.
FS: You’re teaching about the comics craft at Portland State University. What has that experience been like for you and has it influenced your own approach to comics as a whole?
SW: Teaching has forced me to think about what works and doesn’t work in a narrative. It’s pushed me to be more extreme in my own comics. I’m looking, and analyzing, other people’s comics.
FS: Creatively, does working with Mark and stories about the Bible give you the chance to flex muscles you might not otherwise get to employ?
SW: I never thought I’d be a Bible salesman. Here I am.
FS: What do you hope readers take away from reading Apocrypha Now?
SW: I hope people become more open minded – both religious and atheist. There’s a lot of room for discussion – interesting ideas everywhere.
Apocrypha Now, written by Mark Russell with Shannon Wheeler on art, is on sale May 31st from Top Shelf Productions.
From the official book description:
Mark Russell & Shannon Wheeler’s faithful-yet-irreverent approach to the Bible made their book GOD IS DISAPPOINTED IN YOU a modern cult classic. Now, by popular demand, they turn their attention to the best parts left out of the canonical Bible, including the Midrash, the Apocrypha, Gnostic Gospels, and more! And if you thought the BIBLE had some weird stuff in it…