In Brief: Mark V: The Opera

By Derek Lamson, illustrated by John Williams, designed by Brandon Buerkle. Barclay Press, 2023. 130 pages. $20/paperback.

In this graphic novel the Quaker protagonist and narrator contemplates using opera to tell the New Testament story of the man afflicted with a legion of demons whom Jesus heals by driving the fiends into a herd of pigs, which subsequently hurl themselves off a cliff and into the ocean. The healed man wants to join Jesus in his traveling ministry, but Jesus tells him to stay and tell others how God has healed him.

The main character, Derek, lives with a mental health condition; he seeks to understand and contextualize the apparent psychological state of the biblical character. He creates a background story in which the so-called demoniac was conceived as a result of a Roman soldier raping a woman during a siege. The man moves to the village of Gadera to try to improve his social standing.

He was just almost physically sick of how the circumstance of his conception bled through his skin like a bruise that never healed, sick of being called names and spit on, sick of his shame . . . but Gadera wasn’t better. It was just a little different. And he really missed his mother.

The book develops Derek’s character by showing him in conversation with his wife, sister, psychologist, and a homeless man. The detailed and dynamic drawings depict scenes ranging from opera auditions; the employment assistance office; a street in Eugene, Ore.; a graveyard in which Derek confronts earlier generations’ treatment of Chinese immigrants and Indigenous people; and Derek’s home.

This graphic novel is an insightful consideration of living with mental health conditions and how Jesus reaches us in our full humanity.

Sharlee DiMenichi is staff writer for Friends Journal.

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