It’s one of the most familiar stories in the world, yet each retelling offers a new perspective, a new focus. When comics industry veteran Dave Elliot first proposed the idea of running comic book version of the Bible in adult-themed Penthouse magazine, there may have been a certain expectation as to what this particular version mankind’s earliest days might highlight. But what ultimately emerged was something quite different. Elliot, who originated the project and took over scripting after writer Keith Giffen’s departure, and painter Scott Hampton crafted a lush, multifaceted portrait of life in Eden and the desolate solitude of life after the fall. “The Bible: Eden,” which was first collected in hardcover in 2003, returns in a softcover edition this week from IDW Publishing, and CBR caught up with Elliot and Hampton to discuss the book.
Elliot described the unlikely origins of “Eden’s” genesis at Penthouse, where it was serialized in six-page installments. “At the time, I was working at General Media, which owned Penthouse, and [editor] Bob Guccione had always been a strong advocate for comics. Penthouse magazine itself hadn’t actually originated any comic strips after the end of ‘Sweet Chastity.' So I suggested to Bob that, since we were doing Penthouse comics [as a separate imprint], we should do comics in the main magazine. He agreed, but he didn’t just want it to be raunchy. He thought it should be very unique and reflect the magazine.
“One of the things I’d always wanted to tackle was a good adaptation of the Bible. The thing about the Bible is that it’s got more blood and guts and sexual intrigue than anything else out there. So I just said to Bob, ‘Look… how about the Bible?’ Penthouse's tag line was ‘The Magazine of Politics and Protest.’ So doing something like actually putting the Bible in it… was a bit like walking out into the middle of a lightning storm with a rod. Bob loved the idea, and once I showed him Scott’s artwork, he said, ‘oh, I love this, this is great!’ That’s how it started.”
Despite the venue, though, Elliot and Hampton’s Bible did not play up the sexual aspects of the Eden story, though there is certainly nudity and the occasional scene of intercourse. “Maybe it’s the reason it only lasted a year in Penthouse, [but] I didn’t want to show, ‘oh once Eve bites the apple, we’re going to have them doing all weird sexual practices, graphically.’ I thought that just dealing with it honestly was enough, and at the same time, tackling some of the issues that are in the Bible,” Elliot said. “I was very determined that, if you’ve got the story, we don’t use a single word that’s not actually in the Bible itself. I thought that was very important. But also, there’s one chapter that’s not actually from the Bible, and it’s silent-- the period where Adam and Eve are first cast out of Eden. It’s so obvious that the Bible was put together--shall we say, transcribed--by men, I always felt Eve got the short shrift.” Aside from being blamed for the Fall, what interested Elliot was how Eve might view being pregnant and having her first child—the first child. “She was born as an adult, she had no childhood and no babies involved. They had no parents,” Elliot noted. “So I just wanted to do a little a bit about the birth, that she’s the first woman to have a baby. There’s a sequence where she feels there’s something changing in her body, her body’s getting bigger, she’s trying to cover it, to hide it from Adam because she doesn’t know what it is! Part of it’s shame, they’ve recently got these emotions, and there’s shock and horror. Oh my god, what’s happening! These guys were alone, they had nothing to go by.”
This sense of aloneness, though, begins even before the exile, and is palpable in the moments before Adam and Eve are hiding, naked, as God walks through the garden. “The sense of aloneness comes from Adam, when he was first created he walks through the garden and sees lions [and so on] but he knows he’s alone--only from the example of others,” Elliot said. “He sees that there’s a lion and a lioness, that they have been made, and that’s what he asks of God. And He gives him that. And so when Eve eats the fruit, there’s that moment of ‘oh crap.’ It is harsh, and I think it’s something that, when you compare Adam and Eve to two children and their parents… it really was a harsh, bitter lesson. What I hope we got across was the harshness of that. To me, it shows that God is so far above us that sometimes he expects more of us than we could possibly know.”
Unlike last year’s notable “Book of Genesis” by R. Crumb, in which the underground comix legend set out to illustrate absolutely everything that was in the book, Elliot and Hampton’s effort produced a more leisurely-paced story, with ample room for Hampton’s painted artwork to breathe. Hampton noted, though, that the myriad visual interpretations of the Bible, and the Eden scene in particular, meant that his own take on the story would have to be uniquely his own without self-consciously trying to innovate. “[The Genesis story is] extremely well-known and the visuals have been thrown out there in all kinds of ways forever. I decided basically that there were too many different versions of it for me to say, ‘mine’s going to be different,’” Hampton said. “So I shunted all that aside and said I’m going to make it what I think it should be. I didn’t make an effort to make them look like cave men or anything like that, or to try to splice it together with any other kind of ideas. This is a very pared-down, fairly pretty version of the story. That, for me, left the focus on what happened. It puts the focus on the historic document, and that was key.”
Taking his cue first from Giffen’s, then Elliot’s, scripts, Hampton’s art took the form of large panels and multiple splash pages, which he said he took pains to “make it as lush as I could.” “I could spend more time building up the paint and to build up the glaze and to give it more depth in the painting because it was the only ongoing thing I was working on, and I only had to produce six pages a month,” Hampton said. “So I could take more time with it, and because of that I said to myself, well, I’m going to bring in more opaques, play down the linework, and go for more body and tone building up of opaque color. That was the other conscious decision. Not with every panel, and not to lose track of the line, it’s my belief that fully painted work, if it doesn’t have enough of an element of line, starts to seem like it’s just postcards, a series of pictures instead of an actual ongoing story which is connected to the balloons which are all done in a sort of line. So I wanted to maintain that connection to this sort normal comic storytelling as much as I could without—but also to incorporate a more painterly look.”
Regarding that aspect of panel-to-panel storytelling, Hampton confessed that it can be a struggle either justifying or simply integrating those splash pages. “I guess the thing that I find difficult is making splashes and double-page spreads either convince the reader that these are just big panels, which aren’t to be given any greater importance, or give them so much importance that they merit this larger room,” Hampton said. “It’s always problematic for me when I go for a bigger image. I feel like I have to do one or the other. I have to make it seem like it’s just one more panel and therefore don’t be blown away or taken out of the story just because it’s bigger, and take in the information—which is not easy to do, because the reader wants to think that it’s there for a reason. And there’s a part of me that goes, alright, now make it deserve the space. And so, how do I do that? A natural instinct would be to throw a whole bunch of stuff around and play ‘Where’s Waldo’ with the reader so they say, ok, there’s a reason for me to be hanging out here. It’s not a question mark that I have an answer for yet. That’s one of the bigger issues for me, is how to deal with story flow and still incorporate such a thing as a splash.”
There is also sometimes a storytelling element within a panel, an implicit activity that plays out as the reader’s eye scans the page. One notable example is a spread in which Adam, before Eve’s creation, rides an elephant and is surrounded by beasts of the land on the upper portion of the page, while apes teem in the darkness somewhat ominously in the lower half. “Sometimes the image is very straightforward,” Hampton said of his full-page images. “There are a number of instances where there will be a splash page or a very large panel, that’s nothing but an establishing shot or just of an action. Then, it’s quite straightforward. I don’t see those images as anything more than one more image in the storytelling progression. Sometimes it can just seem like a simple action. Whereas with that one, I wanted to play with the idea that Adam, although he was in charge [of the animals], I also wanted to show them outside of him. In the upper tier, you’ve got him on the elephant, and then I think he may have some other animals about, but then below you have this group of monkeys that, outside of what he was doing, they were doing something else.
“Now, was I consciously trying to evoke Darwinist thinking? I don’t know,” Hampton laughed. “I don’t remember. But you can read it as that, as suggesting that there are two storylines here, two competing ideas.”
Both Elliot and Hampton remain proud of their work on “The Bible: Eden,” 10 years after its original serialization. “Of all the things that I’ve done, this was one of the most gratifying,” Hampton said. “It was a lot of work, and it was a very strange environment, and there were certain restrictions. But it was a period in which I turned some corners in my development as a storyteller and as a painter, and I’m very proud of the work.”