Chester Brown's Gospel adaptations

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Two images of Jesus drawn in different styles by Chester Brown
Brown's depiction of Jesus in the Gospels of Mark (left) and Matthew (right)

Chester Brown adapted Gospel of Mark and part of the Gospel of Matthew to comics; installments appeared in his comic books Yummy Fur and Underwater. Brown ran the first installment of the Gospel of Mark in Yummy Fur #4 in 1987, and left Matthew unfinished after cancelling Underwater in 1997. Brown had planned to do all four of the canonical gospels,[1] but in 2011 stated that it is unlikely he will finish even Matthew.[2]


Brown's beliefs[edit]

Brown was brought up in a strictly Christian Baptist[1] household.[3] Over his career, he has gone back and forth between belief and non-belief in Christianity.[4][5]

Brown took on his retelling of the Gospels to try to figure out what he really believed.[6]

The Gospel of Mark[edit]

Appearances of The Gospel of Mark
Issue Date Passages[7]
Yummy Fur # 4 April 1987 Mark 1:01-39
Yummy Fur # 5 June 1987 Mark 1:40–3:12
Yummy Fur # 6 August 1987 Mark 3:13–4:14
Yummy Fur # 7 1987[8] Mark 5:1–6:6
Yummy Fur # 8 November 1987 Mark 6:6–7:23
Yummy Fur # 9 March 1988 Mark 7:24–8:21
Yummy Fur #10 May 1988 Mark 8:22–9:13
Yummy Fur #11 July 1988 Mark 9:14–10:34
Yummy Fur #12 September 1988 Mark 10:35–12:27
Yummy Fur #13 November 1988 Mark 12:28–14:52
Yummy Fur #14 January 1989 Mark 14:53–16:20

Begun in issue #4 of Yummy Fur in 1987, Mark started as a more-or-less straight, abridged illustration[9] of the Gospel of Mark. The adaptation became more idiosyncratic as it developed, however. On pages 55 and 56 Brown wove into the story a passage from the Secret Gospel of Mark, a highly contentious and disputed document said to have been written by Clement of Alexandria that Professor Morton Smith claimed to have discovered in 1958.

Mark Sources[edit]

When asked, Brown wrote in Yummy Fur #15 that he had a large number of sources for his adaptation of Mark. The most books he referred to most frequently were:[10]

The Gospel of Matthew[edit]

Appearances of The Gospel of Matthew
Issue Date Gospel of Matthew
Yummy Fur #15 March 1989 Matthew 1:1–2:13
Yummy Fur #16 June 1989 Matthew 2:14–2:23
Yummy Fur #17 August 1989 Matthew 3:1–4:17
Yummy Fur #19 January 1990 Matthew 4:18–4:22
Yummy Fur #20 April 1990 Matthew 4:23–5:10
Yummy Fur #21 June 1990 Matthew 5:11–7:27
Yummy Fur #22 September 1990 Matthew 7:28–8:17
Yummy Fur #24 April 1990 Matthew 8:18–8:27
Yummy Fur #25 July 1991 Matthew 8:28–9:14
Yummy Fur #26 October 1991 Matthew 9:14–9:17
Yummy Fur #27 January 1992 Matthew 9:20
Yummy Fur #29 August 1992 Matthew 9:18–9:30
Yummy Fur #31 September 1993 Matthew 9:31–10:42
Yummy Fur #32
entire issue
January 1994 Matthew 11:2–12:45,14:2-14:12
Underwater # 2 December 1994 Matthew 12:46–13:58
Underwater # 3 May 1995 Matthew 14:1–2,12-23
Underwater # 4 September 1995 Matthew 14:24–31
Underwater # 5 February 1996 Matthew 14:32–15:28
Underwater # 6 May 1996 Matthew 15:29–16:12
Underwater # 7 August 1996 Matthew 16:13–17:9
Underwater # 8 December 1996 Matthew 17:10–27
Underwater # 9 April 1997 Matthew 18:1–19:1
Underwater #10 June 1997 Matthew 19:1–20:2
Underwater #11 October 1997 Matthew 20:1–29

The Gospel of Matthew started in issue #15 of Yummy Fur in 1989 and continued through to the premature end of Underwater in 1997. As of 2011, it has yet to be finished.

Brown's gospels gained a reputation for being "ingeniously blasphemous" mainly from his Matthew retellings. In contrast to Mark's Jesus, who is "serene and always in control," in Matthew he is a scowling, balding figure, and "there is a more radicalized disbelief and a greater focus on the fleshy and earthly aspects of the story."[11] Brown's depiction of the Matthew's version of the Saviour is "a Jesus that shouts. He's a Jesus that screams", his face "haggard and worn, his dark hair matted and stringy".[3]

The disciples are depicted as awkward, fearful and full of doubt, who are "barely able to reconcile the greatness of God with the miseries of their existence".[3]

As Brown has pointed out, starting with the full-issue installment of Matthew in Yummy Fur #32, he deliberately changed Jesus' third-person references to himself to first-person references in the dialogue.[12]

Matthew sources[edit]

Amongst the books Brown cited for his Matthew adaptation are:

  • Shaberg, Jane. The Illegitimacy of Jesus: A Feminist Theological Interpretation of the Infancy Narratives. Harper & Row (1987)[10]
  • Maccoby, Hyam. The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity. Harper & Row (1986)[12]
  • Barnstone, Willis (editor). The Other Bible: Jewish Pseudepigrapha, Christian Apocrypha, Gnostic Scriptures, Kabbalah, Dead Sea Scrolls. Harper & Row (1984)[12]
  • Schonfield, Hugh. The Original New Testament. Harper & Row (1985)[13]

Unfinished state[edit]

Matthew has been on hiatus since 1997, with the story left with Jesus about to enter Jerusalem. Brown had long said he planned on coming back to the story, but in an interview at The Comics Journal in 2011, he said he would not likely finish it, as his heart was no longer in it.[2]


The Gospel adaptations have generally been well-accepted by fans and critics. John Bell calls them Brown's most important uncollected work.[14]

To Francis Hwang of City Pages, "the paradox of faith is brilliantly, heartbreakingly depicted" in the Gospel of Matthew.[3]

Relation to Brown's other work[edit]

Religious and biblical elements have found their way into almost all of Brown's work:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Juno, pg 143
  2. ^ a b Rogers, part 3
  3. ^ a b c d Hwang, Francis (1998-12-23). "Graven Images". City Pages. Archived from the original on 2012-10-04. Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  4. ^ Seth Interviews Chester Brown, hosted at Retrieved 2011-05-15.
  5. ^ Walker, Benjamin; Chester Brown (2011-05-17). "The Difference Between Giving and Taking (a conversation with Chester Brown)" (Interview: Audio). Retrieved 2011-05-23. 
  6. ^ Epp, Darell (2002-01-29). "Two-Handed Man interviews cartoonist Chester Brown". Archived from the original on May 9, 2008. Retrieved 2011-04-23. 
  7. ^ Underwater #7. pages 26–27
  8. ^ The indicia for this issue doesn't state the month
  9. ^ Ng Sat Tong (July 2004). "Old Wine in New Wineskins: The Gospel According to Chester Brown". The Comics Journal. Fantagraphics Books (261): 31–37. Retrieved 2011-04-07. Brown's Mark does not read like the work of someone who is challenging received wisdom but an exercise in illustration. 
  10. ^ a b Yummy Fur #15, page 24
  11. ^ Ng Sat Tong (July 2004). "Old Wine in New Wineskins: The Gospel According to Chester Brown". The Comics Journal. Fantagraphics Books (261): 31–37. Retrieved 2011-04-07hosted at The Hooded Utilitarian 
    NB: the online version is slightly different from the print version—most notably, the 2004 article includes an image from Robert Crumb's Book of Genesis, which wasn't published until 2009
  12. ^ a b c Underwater #7. page 26
  13. ^ Underwater #9. page 26
  14. ^ Bell, page 160
  15. ^ The Little Man, page 163

Works cited[edit]