a review of Mark Russell & Shannon Wheeler’s God is Disappointed in You
In Sunday school, they teach you that God is a loving God and that He is perfect and merciful. What they fail to mention is that He can be a lot like that sad girl in college who always took her stupid, hygiene-challenged, cheating boyfriend back, time after time. At least that’s how Mark Russell describes Him in his new book, God is Disappointed in You. Stripped of its arcane language and strange metaphors, this bible of sorts reads like parody. And though its subject matter may feel like a lightning strike waiting to happen, which was only a slight concern for both writer and illustrator, it is both funny and illuminating at the same time.
Biblical language is always open to interpretation. Even the early stories like Adam and Eve and Noah and the flood are simplified down to their essence to be taught in Sunday schools. The Sunday school versions tend to leave out what could be construed as vindictive violence that God perpetrates on his own Chosen People time after time when they drift from His word. It would be easy to make sarcastic comments on some of the more outlandish Old Testament stories and pick apart the inaccuracies, which could come off as mean-spirited or just closed-minded.
These interpretations of the stories that church going folk know by heart are re-told in a simplistic, and modern way without coming off as judgmental from a twenty-first century viewpoint. King Solomon gets called a “dick” on multiple occasions, Samson is portrayed as plain stupid for marrying a Philistine woman who was clearly scheming to destroy Israel’s number one bar brawler. And nobody seems to like Paul, though after reading through all his letters to the philandering early Christian churches, it’s not hard to see why. No one escapes Russell’s pen unscathed. Not even God Himself, who is compared multiple times to a spoiled brat who simply destroys what doesn’t make Him happy. But, Russell straddles the line between commentator and interpreter deftly. He adds a modern spin on some stories and languages but ultimately demonstrates a kind of satirical humanity that would make even the most devoted chuckle.
The book began as a project to downsize the story of Job. Then Russell got the idea to do the same for all the remaining books of The Bible. He spent two years researching and rereading The Bible, cover to cover for what would become God is Disappointed in You.
Russell collaborated with Shannon Wheeler, a renowned cartoonist and New Yorker regular, author of the Too Much Coffee Man comic series. Each of the books of The Bible reinterpreted in God is Disappointed in You contains at least one illustration. They range from Elisha and his child-killing bears, to the wise men trying to use a GPS to find their way to the Bethlehem. Even the cover, made of black faux leather, and illustrated with a silver-embossed hand reaching down to flick a kneeling man, carries the idea that God is simply always disappointed with his wayward house pets. Wheeler’s cartoons are simply drawn, but crackle with a humor just as quick as Russell’s. One could say that theirs was a match made in, well, heaven.
With sarcasm and dry humor, God is Disappointed in You spares no one. At the end of the day, Russell and Wheeler drive home the point that God did all these things to His people because He loves them. And, at the end of the world, humans will become His house pets again. Hamsters to be exact.
God is Disappointed in You
by Mark Russell & Shannon Wheeler
Top Shelf Productions
$19.95 (US, Print) / $9.99 (US, Digital)
This review can be found in our Fall 2013 issue (Vol. 60.1).