Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Scripture Cartoons?

Posted by robf on November 5, 2007

Deep down in Joe’s Akedah podcast, he has a throwaway line about the inadequacy of cartoons to convey gospel truths. This is something I’ve been thinking about for awhile. On my mission in Ecuador, we showed the Living Scripture cartoons of the Nativity and the Resurrection in the chapel every night during the Christmas and Easter season, and invited the public to come and watch. We ended up showing it to hundreds of people, and ended up teaching, and even baptizing a few. But only a very few. But I do remember being touched by the Spirit, and emotionally moved, when I first saw those and many other Living Scriptures videos.

But now I have a hard time watching them. They just seem, so, I don’t know, shallow? Maybe its my subsequent experience with other cartoons touching on gospel topics:

So, is it just me? Is my view colored somehow by these cartoons made to mock gospel teachings? Or is there something about animation that makes it a problematic vehicle for conveying scriptural messages or gospel truths?

23 Responses to “Scripture Cartoons?”

  1. Matt W. said

    I really like mike Allred’s “Golden Plates” Comic books, and my daughter likes the living scriptures movies. I don’t love them, but they aren’t awful. They are appropriate for her age (4)

  2. NathanG said

    I don’t like cartoons. I grew up with the Illustrated Stories From the Book of Mormon book collection and a few Living Scriptures videos. Now I can’t help but imagine cartoons when I’m trying to picture the scriptures. Anything that helps me to envision the scriptures in real-life rather than in cartoon really makes a difference for me, but I have a childhood of cartoons to overcome.
    The cycle continues with my kids, they were started on the scripture readers that are available through the church distribution. We’ll see what happens when they are reading the real things. So far my oldest is making a fine transition with the real thing.

  3. Jim F. said

    I understand why people use cartoon or illustrated-stories versions of the scriptures, but I don’t think it is necessary. If we take the time needed to help even little children understand the scriptures, they can. It requires considerable work, but it isn’t impossible. And one benefit is that they learn quickly to read and understand for themselves, something that, in my experience, many adults in the Church cannot yet do.

  4. brianj said

    Jim F: you say “little children,” but I wonder how little? A 6-yr old I can see, but what about a 1-, 2-, or 3-yr old?

  5. Joe Spencer said

    We began reading the Book of Mormon with my daughter two months after she turned three (at the beginning of the year). We finished Mormon’s contribution (Mormon 7) last night with her. She has done marvelously well. She has understood things very well from the very beginning. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is memory (if it was something we read more than a couple of weeks ago, it tends to have disappeared), but she can engage the stories quite responsibly. She has only just turned four, and she does better all the time. Tonight for family home evening, we talked about the Jaredites and why Moroni is going to write about them, and she followed all of that very well.

    In a word: I totally agree with Jim. And it does, as he says, require considerable work, but I don’t know what else on earth is more worth the effort.

  6. robf said

    I guess my biggest concern about animated cartoons is that they seem to make LDS theology and scriptures seem silly or laughable. I have to admit, that any attempt to portray the council in heaven or the three degrees of glory in a cartoon can only look a bit ridiculous. I’m reminded of the artwork in the Jehovah’s Witness publications back in the 80s. What is it about gospel teachings or the scriptures that make them hard to capture in a cartoon, animated or otherwise? Can there be other art forms that better capture these truths? Or is there just something about the deep multi-textual linguistic nature of The Word that is lost in a picture?

  7. brianj said

    Joe (and Jim): One of the things I’ve liked about our illustrated BoM is that I can read it with my very young daughters (<3 years old). We actually start our “scripture” reading with board books that have almost no resemblance to the scriptures, but they get us into a habit of reading together before bed. This starts at…well, a few months of age. Then we move into the illustrated BoM (around 18 months), and eventually into the “BoM For LDS Families” (it has some illustrations but it is the full BoM text). Only one daughter has made it to the “BoM For LDS Families”—when she was four or five (but she is a very early reader). I imagine that she will stick with that until she has read it a few times through, even though she has already asked for a regular set of scriptures for church.

    Throughout this process we take time to talk about what we read. Well, as soon as our daughters are old enough to talk. Sadly, a lot of what my now-4-yr-old daughter wants to talk about is how violent everyone was, which is the thing I dislike most about the illustrated BoM. Still, I like the overall results of our process, but I’m interested to learn of ways we might improve.

  8. brianj said

    Oh, and we have never used the animated series (and most likely never will). I think one of the drawbacks (as robf mentions) is that animated cartoons show the action, but not the thoughts/doctrine/ideas of the characters. The BoM becomes a set of stories about warriors and robbers and a few miracles.

  9. s james said

    Children make the transition from scripture-based picture books to print-only scriptures much as we do with everyday texts. I think one issue is the oversimplification of scripture to increase readability. It’s not unusual for some adults to retain childhood versions of scriptural accounts as if they were complete accounts, in fact much Christianity is built on reduced narratives.

  10. robf said

    S James, “reduced narratives” is a great way to think of these. For a long time I’ve thought that much of what we get is the “primary” version of the scriptures. Even the “seminary” version isn’t much better, and rarely does a Gospel Doctrine (let alone a CES institute/BYU religion) class rise much higher. The fun thing about this blog, and the wiki, and Joe’s podcasts is that I think we’re starting to see much closer and richer readings of the scriptures. I think the more we get that kind of meaty discussion, the less fulfilled we are by spiritual Slimfast or other meat substitutes. Its amazing how you can use the same scriptures to whip up a light snack, or a full twenty course meal. Feast upon the word, indeed!

  11. brianj said

    s james: I second what robf said: “reduced narratives” is a good way to look at this (something I was actually thinking about/lamenting as I was teaching a few weeks ago, but I couldn’t articulate it as you did)

  12. Joe Spencer said

    I also have to wonder whether the very non-visibility of the gold plates, of the Nephites as a people, of Christ Himself, is reason enough for us to keep some distance from an overvisualization of the scriptures. When we first began reading with my daughter, she usually got a few facts out of reading, but they things that were fascinating to her, things like: angels sing to Heavenly Father; Jesus is like a lamb; Nephi took three things from Jerusalem with him, a sword, a book, and a ball; etc. Because she was able to gain these broad thematic ideas from earlier reading, it is now far more possible to build actual “doctrine” on that framework. Now she learns things like: Mormon wrote a book about lots of other books written by the Nephites; angels bring books to Gentiles with commandments to read; the Gentiles have to teach the Israelites in order to be adopted into Israel; when the Abrahamic covenant is made, the Holy Ghost comes on us like fire; etc. I’m amazed at how profound her understanding already is.

  13. Jim F. said

    brianj: I don’t think I’m in any position to do any more than reflect on my experience and what I’ve seen in others. I would hate for what I say about these kinds of things to be any more than that. I can easily imagine that someone else has a different experience or very good reasons for doing what they do that is different than what I’ve seen.

    That said, it seems to me that things like the board books can serve a useful function. Perhaps a board book of Book of Mormon or Bible stories is as good as or better than anything else as young children begin to learn about books and reading. So I’m not arguing for a ban on all such things. However, even at less than three-years-old most children can learn a great deal by reading the scriptures themselves, rather than simplified versions of the scriptures, with their parents and siblings. My wife and I were not as diligent as we should have been. My children have been more successful. Their success confirms my suspicion that it can be done.

  14. brianj said

    Jim F: I take everything you say as strict commandment. {smile} My question is whether the actual scriptures are worth the struggle for very young children. For example, I have a 15-month old daughter; she will look at pictures with me but never, ever will she just sit in my lap and listen to me talk. How can I read the scriptures with her? I could struggle with her and the actual scriptures, or I could use board books which are “easier”. Obviously, each has its pros and cons. My question is how the pros/cons of actual scriptures balance against board books for children <3 yrs.

  15. Jim F. said

    It has been so long since I’ve tried doing these things that I don’t feel like I can answer well. Matthew F., are you willing to say something about your experience?

  16. Perhaps I’m cynical, but I think the animated scriptures were simply an attempt to make money. I see this trend continued with absurdly stupid “mormon” movies being released like wild fire. I’m leary whenever one actually makes it to the theaters. Maybe you can guess I’m not a “Work & The Glory” film fan. If you think I’m exagerating, try sitting through “Baptists At Our Barbeque” or just about any of them! But, then again, I don’t really resonate with the big screen version of the scriptures. I found “The Testament” to be disappointing to me simply because I didn’t like the way the actor looked who played “Jesus.” And any attempt to graphically depict the atonement just irritates me.

    So, what do I think about the cartoonization of our LDS scriptures, ridiculous. However…this all being said, I do like the church’s version of the scriptures which began as slide shows and were simply put on film. So, they don’t move, they’re very serious and they are not sensational. I have put those videos on as we’ve gotten ready for church on Sundays for the little ones to watch as they wait for the teenagers. They have served to teach the stories in an encapsulated form and have been great springboards for further discussion of the gospel. I have one child learn to read from the book versions of these same videos. She responded well to the frame-by-frame format, similar to a commic book. However, these should never replace reading the scriptures.

    I have a sad story to tell about just this subject: Several years ago a young man in our ward was deliberating about serving a mission. He decided to go and decided he needed more education on the scriptures and gospel. So, what did he do? He turned to the animated videos that are the subject of this post. I know this because his mother proudly told me what he was doing…coming home from work and watching a video or two. I knew at the time that this was not going to either feed his spirit and solidify his decision to serve a mission or help him feel more educated on gospel subjects. However, I never dreamed he would actually change his mind about a mission, enlist in the navy and separate himself from the church and it’s teachings, but this is what he did. FWTW.–nanette

  17. Robert C. said

    I don’t have much to say on scripture cartoons (yet), but I think play-acting is a great way to get young kids involved with scriptures (I’m thinking more along the lines of Christmas pageants, not violent episodes!).

  18. brianj said

    Thanks for your candor, Jim.

  19. robf said

    Nanette, this is just what I’m most afraid of–youth or others taking a quick look at our “reduced narrative” versions of the gospel–be they animated films, cartoons, or milkified meat substitutes–and thinking at best its pretty thin, and at worst totally cheesy and deciding to seek something more substantive elsewhere. What a sad story.

  20. brianj said

    robf: “milkified meat substitutes” You win the prize for conjuring up the most disgusting imagery. blech!

  21. I have asked myself, “What is the purpose of those cartoons?” Like you, I can come up with a myriad of answers but none of them seems to justify the “violence” they do to the scriptures. Monetary gain seems the only rational purpose, because I can’t believe for a second that the makers LOVE the scriptures and want to impart that same love to their viewers. I know this sounds harsh, and it is. It really irks me. I’m just glad nobody in my family is wrapped up in that business. But this whole thing of commericalizing our religion irks me and I, of all people, shouldn’t be overly sensitive about it since I make a living making & selling art that becomes just another thing to buy, dust or give to D.I. Ah…maybe if Minerva Tichert had done the art I’d like them. :)

  22. robf said

    Part of me wonders if one of my problems with the cartoons is that it makes some things too literal? How can you draw a cartoon of the Council in Heaven that doesn’t seem somehow off, like a giant conference center with billions and billions of spirits there? Same with the Final Judgment. Its either going to be too big or too small or too whatever. And the Garden of Eden story–two naked people and a snake and a tree? Noah and 10,000,000 of the earth’s species crammed into an ark? Perhaps the value of those stories is to help us picture ourselves in relation to God, Christ, and others. Cartoons, in their own funny way, perhaps make these personal experiences too concrete?

  23. I don’t really like the “Living Scriptures” series. I don’t like their high-pressure sales tactics.

    But… I do enjoy a blossoming popular culture. I like to see us making things that appeal to us. Movies, music, art, novels. Much of it is garbage, but then, isn’t that true of any other artistic genre? Aren’t most of the movies made in Hollywood garbage? And how many paperbacks on a grocery store shelf are going to be called classics of 21rst century literature?

    I have also met many who dislike “commercializing the gospel”. I can accept that. Sometimes that bothers me, too. But, somehow, it’s seems to be OK for us to spend our money on the garbage the world puts out. But if we want to spend it on things we make (garbage or not), we can’t because that’s commercializing the gospel?

    I guess I don’t get it…

    MRKH

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