Manga Review of Paul: Tarsus to Redemption

Paul: Tarsus to RedemptionPaul: Tarsus to Redemption
Volumes 1-3
Story by Matthew Salisbury
Art by Sean Lam
Published by Manga Hero

Did you know that lifelong bachelor, the Apostle Paul, once had a love interest?  And that his protege, Timothy, had a childhood friend who encouraged him in a most tsundere-like way?

No?

Well, that’s fine, because this is all part of the creative license that writer Matthew Salisbury took in crafting the OEL manga, Paul: Tarsus to Redemption.  And it was a most excellent decision.

This three-volume series follows the life of the Apostle Paul, from his days as a persecutor of Christians, when he was named Saul, to his trial in Rome in front of the Emperor Nero.  Though expansive in the material it covers, the series moves swiftly, focusing on a few key events and treading years between each volume.

As I mentioned earlier, the book doesn’t remain slavish to the Bible.  While Salisbury and artist, Sean Lam, recreate certain scenes from the Book of Acts fairly faithfully, they add dialogue missing from those accounts and add scenes that could have happened, but which are never discussed in the Bible.  One example is a storyline in the second volume about a woman in Paul’s life.  It’s never fully indicated that she’s a love interest, but Paul certainly seems to like her.  The relationship is quietly romantic; I also thought it a bit funny when reflecting that the Apostle Paul, who so steadfastly defended singlehood in his letters, may have almost married once upon a time.  The storyline also becomes quite powerful when it takes an unexpected turn near the end of volume two.

These fill-ins become as important to the tale as Biblical events like Paul’s shipwreck and his trial.  They present Paul’s mission and the Christian themes of the story in a subtle, symbolic light; the story can thus be enjoyed, avoiding a didactic tone that turns off most Christians and non-Christians alike.  The method also helps us become attached to the main characters.  Paul is presented as caring, passionate, and strong.  Timothy, who is as much the main protagonist of the final volume as Paul, is the typical headstrong youth that we commonly see in manga, while his childhood friend, Phoebe, is a source of humor that adds both a manga feel and a human touch to the tale.

Sean Lam’s artwork is neat and clean.  Certain panels are outstanding – one top-down view of Jerusalem was so beautifully illustrated that I paused for a minute to admire it.  I wish there were more of these detailed scenes in the series.

If there is a major criticism, it’s that action sometimes moved too fast.  Three volumes seemed hardly enough room to tell such a broad tale, and at times the series was rushed.  Just as soon as character development occurred, the protagonists were tossed into danger – there was little lead-in, which sometimes led to an exhaustive reading.  There were also a number of pages that I had to reread for clarity, though to be fair, I commonly need to do this with most manga series I read.

Still, the volumes were surprisingly enthralling.  Christian fiction has always been a source of criticism, for its blandness as much as anything.  Lukewarm reviews of Christian-themed manga have echoed these sentiments.  But in Paul: Tarsus to Redemption, Salisbury and Lam have done something unlikely – created a story with Christian themes, based on Biblical accounts, and not only presented it in a thoroughly entertaining manner, but also made is accessible to non-Christians.  It’s not just good Christian manga – it’s good manga, period.

And that’s worthy of an AMEN.

Rating: A-

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About TWWK

TWWK, known to outlaws and lawmen alike as Charles, lives deep in the heart of Texas, where he drives cattle and boot scoots (not really - though he does sport a pair of rattlesnake boots). Somehow in this frontier, he also finds time for his wife, children, and church. Oh, and anime, too.

Posted on 07.08.2011, in Christianity, Manga, Review and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I would love to hear more on why you think Christian manga falls so short. The Bible itself contains some compelling reading from a story point of view (thought not all bits have the same levels of excitement), so one would argue that it should make for alright manga. Could it be that the inherent need for Christian manga to be preachy weighs down good story telling?

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    • To tell you the truth, the only manga (besides Paul) that I’ve read with an emphasis on Christianity is Warrior Nun Areala – a series quite different from these. The idea that Christian manga falls short is based on most reviews, which generally range from poor to middling.

      From what I’ve read (and from my guesses), I think there are at least four reasons these manga haven’t been well received. First, some are regarded as preachy – and unless you’re a “believer” in the topic (whether it has to do with religion or something entirely different, like environmentalism), no one likes to be preached at.

      Second, I think a lot of readers will approach these manga with their own beliefs weighting against a fair reading – in other words, many probably can’t get past the belief that the story they’re reading is being presented as truth, when they believe it to be fiction.

      Third, the artwork for most of these manga (if not all) has been criticized for being too elementary. And finally, I just don’t know how well a direct translation of Biblical stories translate into a form with certain conventions, like manga – unless as with Paul, the creators take liberties to add elements that fit into these conventions.

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  2. Will of the Wisps

    TWWK, thank you for presenting these mangas. If not for this blog, I would not have heard of these works, and although some do fall below my expectations, I know I will find some that will pleasantly surprise me.

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