When I recommend comics to my friends, I generally avoid rankings with numbers, or stars, and focus directly on dollars by offering a recommendation along a “buy now, trade wait, borrow, or ignore” scale. For investing in a title, I consider how often I would reread the story or review the art, and how often I will want to urgently share the book with others.
With that in mind, I would recommend owning a trade paperback copy of Ted McKeever’s Miniature Jesus, available from Image’s partner imprint Shadowline.
In the last week, I’ve gone through three complete readings, start to finish. I attribute this book’s high re-readability to its multiple layers. McKeever addresses ideas starting with visceral addiction and growing to encompass metaphysical themes with hints of secular humanism and existentialism. I don’t really do poetry or philosophical literature anymore, but if you’re excited to hear that that McKeever’s avatar is named ‘Chomsky’ and quotes Whitman, then there are probably additional layers of intrigue awaiting you within this story.
To be clear, Miniature Jesus is not particularly irreverent or dismissive of religion. While a literal miniature Jesus appears, he is not the principal protagonist. The main character is Chomsky, a recovering alcoholic who is on day 26 of self-imposed isolation and sobriety. McKeever’s abstract treatment of the topic of addiction makes the story accessible, at some level, for those who have not personally struggled with alcoholism. I suspect that everyone reading this article right now has at least one addiction which could be substituted for alcohol; replace the beer with a coveted single back-issue, switch the bookstore for the bar, and imagine your local comic book store owner describing the upcoming cross-over event like a fine aged wine.
Chomsky is haunted by the incarnation of his personal higher power (think Alcoholics Anonymous) in the form of a fetid feline corpse, his demon of temptation in a form inspired by a toothy bartender, a one-armed miniature Jesus who has climbed down from a wall mounted cross, and the fetus from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I can’t say anything else definitive about the plot, and that’s partially through design, or maybe carelessness, depending on how much credit you grant the author.
Perhaps it’s convenient to drop a lump of dense material into a reader’s lap with the excuse ‘figure it out yourself’, but I tend to give McKeever the benefit of the doubt based on what he himself opines, through Chomsky, regarding authority and looking for external resolution. At one point, Chomsky has grown tired of looking to his high power for answers:
What? “Help?” I know your kind of help! More of that philosophical crap. And then come the questions. One piled on top of the next. So many of them that they all start to bleed into one another, and then the answers themselves become even more questions. I did it all. I tried it all. And I walked out. Wanna know why? Because with all that desperate need for answers, I was just trading one addiction for another. Then I found peace.
In this case, I would take Chomsky’s rejection of his higher power’s influence as permission for the reader to abandon a close reading of the text; we should be free to enjoy the experience of reading the story without the pressure of looking for answers.
I am convinced that Miniature Jesus could not have been executed as well in another medium. In panels of sequential art, McKeever can convey a disjointed feeling, impart a sense of disconnect from reality, literal discontinuity, which film would be hard-pressed to replicate so naturally. Subtle variations in detail, and shifts from realistic to exaggerated caricatures’ reflect changes in the narrator’s perception, which would be difficult to execute efficiently with prose only. In addition to efficacy, I have to note that the black and white artwork is incredible.
As an example, there is a page in the first issue where three consecutive panels show the demon of temptation, who has just been told to fuck off. First the demon is taking a drink. In the middle panel, the drink has dissolved into his tail and the demon is perhaps literally performing autofellatio, or maybe he is appearing as an ouroboros; a symbol cyclical self-reflection, or perhaps self-destruction. In the third panel, the demon appears as a small vanishing cloud next to Chomsky’s ear. Then the demon is temporarily gone. Pages could be written about these three images alone.
I look forward to sharing Miniature Jesus with friends who do not read comics at all. The book’s accessible premise and its challenging metaphysical suggestions are crucial for impressing skeptics, but McKeever has also matched his story with surreal artwork exemplifying the potential of the graphic novel medium. It’s going to look pretty awesome on my bookshelf.