The Gospel of Carol: Radical Teen Study Edition
John S. Troutman
The Gospel of Carol traces the life of Carol, the daughter of God, her brothers Thomas and Jesus, and her sister Miriam. She, not Jesus, is the Messiah, but people aren’t as willing to receive the Word of God from a woman as from a man. Despite their lack of belief in her, she carries on, the date and time and manner of her death inscribed on her psyche from the earliest moment she can remember, until the bittersweet end.
I went into The Gospel of Carol anticipating something highly irreverent and possibly offensive. What I found, however, was a surprisingly heartwarming comic with a focus on family and anachronistic pop culture quips. A++, would blaspheme again.
It isn’t often I have the opportunity to read something written by someone not only familiar with the Apocrypha but working directly from them. Yet, here cartoonist John S. Troutman is doing exactly that. Too frequently, people (especially Christians) aren’t familiar with the Apocrypha or the history of Biblical canon at all. Yet, they’re part of Christian history, reflective of specific moments in time or schools of belief. Packaging multiple Apocryphal gospels in comic format to tell the story of redemption in Christ might not appeal to die-hard Christian fundamentalists, but I suspect it’s safe to say they are not the intended audience.
Troutman uses strong, simple lines, allowing his character’s facial expressions to tell the story. At one point, Joseph suggests the family’s accompanying menagerie of lions, tigers, bears, and dinosaurs would eat one another if they become hungry, or perhaps dine on the donkey. In a single tight panel of the donkey’s facial profile, Troutman perfectly captures the animal’s opinion of that idea. Much of The Gospel of Carol revolves around the dialogue, so uncomplicated artwork allows it to shine without distraction.
Now, forgive me, but Catholic school nerd alert: One of my favorite aspects of The Gospel of Carol is Troutman’s emphasis on family and the way it plays with the dual human/divine nature of Christ as a figure. The story of Jesus in the canonical gospels is, at its heart, incredibly lonely. You have a figure who knows from early on that his destiny is to die so all of humankind can find eternal redemption. And, although he gathers a crowd of followers, they join with him for his wisdom and leadership. Carol, however, has her siblings, including her fellow triplets Jesus and Thomas, and their younger sister Miriam. Even on the cross, she isn’t alone; Jesus is right there beside her to the very end. Her human side is ever-present, bringing comfort even as her divine side brings pain.
The Gospel of Carol has many layers. One minute Carol and Jesus are making touching points about family and treating people as they should be, putting into words. The next, Carol is wise-cracking about racism in the Indian subcontinent while slyly poking fun at Christianity’s weaponized evangelism. I appreciate it, because Christ the person had some excellent teachings, but Christianity—the hulking behemoth—has carried out some hideous atrocities in Christ’s name.
Another layer is Carol’s distaste for having to rely on Jesus as her public face. The moment she realizes he will have far more impact than she will saying the exact same thing is every woman putting forward an idea in a meeting and having it ignored, only to hear it presented by a male coworker ten minutes later to thunderous applause. That feeling is then amplified after Carol’s resurrection when Paul comes along and stomps all over the churches she’s trying to establish.
Although I joked about how I would “blaspheme again” reading it, The Gospel of Carol directs its snark at the ridiculousness of people’s actions and situations rather than the source material, for the most part. It takes a story familiar to so many and retells it with heart and a touch of Biblical education.
Carol is a spiritual leader a first-century me might not have minded following, even if I didn’t always understand one of her references.