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OK - I've been dreading covering these last two for quite some time, because they could very easily be taken out of context and completely misunderstood, in a way that might make me regret I ever uploaded them.

 

On the other hand, this story and particularly the next one demonstrate quite clearly that I was beginning to get the hang of satire (even if the things I was satirising were stories from thousands of years ago). But as we've often seen in the past, the oldest stories can often be seen to be the most sacred, and taking the piss out of them or making negative satirical comments about them isn't always welcome. So, even though I wrote these over 30 years ago at the age of 13 and I'm really only looking at a teenager's ideas through the lens of history, I still feel a little nervous that people will jump to terrible conclusions and want to hurt me for it. Or, even worse, that I might find the terrible conclusions are correct, and I might still agree with them now.

 

But let's start at the beginning, shall we? You see, when I reached the first year of high school and got my very first timetable, there was this lesson I had never heard of before called "R.E." Having no idea what this meant, I asked around and someone told me it stood for "Religious Education." At which point, my mind jumped to certain false conclusions and I became quite excited indeed.

 

As I may have mentioned before, I wasn't brought up to be the follower of any religion. One of the most important decisions my progressive parents made when I was born (apart from agreeing never to use physical violence on me) was that I wouldn't be baptised in the name of any religion and that I should, instead, be free to make up my own mind, when I was old enough to make an informed decision. This was quite a rare thing for a kid on a Yorkshire council estate, since everyone else I knew at school had been baptised - not necessarily because they were devout Christians, but because that's the sort of thing you were supposed to do. And though they were only 18 and had their own Egyptian-inspired occultish religion/hobby, my parents were wise enough to realise that that was their own private affair and not the right thing to impose on a kid. So they were seriously unlikely to force me to follow another religion instead - especially if that's what everybody else did.

 

So, not having had religion shoved down my young throat (except of course when singing hymns in school assemblies and having to revisit the story of Jesus' birth and death every year at the appropriate times), I didn't have much knowledge about the Bible, nor any other religious text, nor had I been very interested in such things.

 

But around the time I reached puberty, I didn't just start growing hairs and thinking about sex all the time - I also started seriously contemplating metaphysical questions for the first time. Some were just based on straightforward paranoia - e.g. "What if everyone else in the world is working together in a great conspiracy against me and, when I am not in the room with them, they watch and laugh at me on a huge TV screen?" (a thought I clearly wasn't alone in having, if you have a look at The Truman Show).

 

But other questions were more serious and insoluble. The essential problem I'd had with the idea of God since I was a little kid - "If God made the universe, who made God?" - had transformed into "How come anything exists at all? It's impossible - as far as our feeble minds are aware - for something to come into existence from nothing, so it must have been there in the first place. But how can I reconcile the fact that the universe exists with the obvious truth that it cannot possibly begin to exist?" Though I've never joined or been seriously tempted to follow any religion, it is this last question - unanswerable by our minds in any logical way - that makes me think there is something imperfect in the way we perceive the world and therefore, without better brains or assisted access to higher understanding, our feeble human minds are incapable of grasping how the universe can just spring into existence from nothing, for no particular reason. And it's this - because I still can't answer it - that makes me, technically, an agnostic rather than an atheist. Unless of course you take LSD and suddenly the idea of existence and non-existence being the same thing makes perfect sense. As does the idea that God is all and everything, the same as the universe, in you and in me, Or so they tell me, because as I've said before, I refuse to admit whether I've ever taken such terrible things. And if I did, surely everything I experienced would be a drug-induced illusion, rather than a temporary alteration of how you perceive the world around you?

 

So - back to reality. When I was told we'd be having lessons in Religious Education, I was very excited. I naturally assumed - since I didn't follow any particular religion - that I wouldn't just be learning about Christianity and Judaism from The Bible. I honestly expected we'd be hearing about Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Ancient Greek Pantheons and all sorts of things like that, so we got a proper grounding in most or all of the different religions people had or still followed. I'd hoped the experience might be an enlightening journey and even give me potential answers to some of the metaphysical questions I'd been exploring.

 

No such luck. In one of the most crushing disappointments of my entire school life, I quickly understood we'd be looking only at the Bible, and not necessarily in a critical way. So basically an endless cavalcade of stories from the Old and New Testament - in fact, I'm pretty sure we did the New Testament first, and started on the Old in the third year. Just so we didn't get confused about which religion we were supposed to believe in the most. Obviously, as a non-religious person who was still interested in religion (and, basically, other cultures in general), I found this very stifling.

 

Fortunately, for the first two years, our RE teacher was very nice. Mrs Dutton - who always seemed to bring a smile to every lesson and therefore made the subject enjoyable, despite its narrow focus - was one of my favourite teachers at high school. She had a sense of humour and a laid-back manner as well as being easy to talk to (and, I have to admit, really very attractive). So I didn't mind as much as I thought I would. Still - learning about a subject I didn't really believe in - these were, to me, just old stories which were either orally-passed-down parables, total guesses about how things might have happened, or perhaps, on occasion, might have some slight basis in truth. But I never for one second thought any of them were actually, completely true, in the "truth and nothing but the truth" sense that you'd swear on the Bible in court. I looked on them more as stories people wanted you to believe, as a way of keeping people in line or protecting them from various diseases or social complications at the time they were written, which might have been important survival guides at the time but weren't necessarily entirely relevant now.

 

I don't remember us having text books or even bloody Bibles - which might have helped - so as far as I recall, we were told the stories by the teacher herself and then asked to write down from memory what we'd heard. Naturally, this means that unless you're paying incredible attention (or already know the story, in which case the lesson is a complete waste of time), you'll usually miss something out. So I began to learn how to paraphrase things in my own way and, eventually started adding my own little details to them - adding extraneous untrue details to the stories - mainly as a way of keeping myself interested, but often to remind the teacher that I was not a Christian or a Jew so I felt a little short-changed by this attempt at brainwashing me into being one, which was never going to work. Naturally, I started pushing the envelope as I went, every now and again turning them into comic strips, set in my own idiosyncratic cartoon world. This way, at least I could practice my artwork at the same time.

 

This particular strip, based on Acts Chapters 21-26, is a creative paraphrasing of Paul's return to Jerusalem after his conversion to Christianity (after having once - under his previous name Saul - been a violently fierce opponent of its followers). The other Jews there were naturally upset about his new direction and wanted to kill him - but a Roman centurion (since the Romans of course were still the rulers round those parts) intervened and saved him from the mob. But because he was still under threat of death from his former brethren, he was sent away to Caesarea, where the Roman Governor Felix, not really knowing what to do with him, decided to keep him in prison for two years. Probably for reasons of time, I squashed the rest of the story into one frame (and sort of change the ending) as the new Governor Porcius decides to hand Paul back to the Jews but, since he was technically a Roman citizen, Paul invoked the right of appeal, via which he could travel to Rome to seek a pardon from Caesar himself. In my version (and who knows how the story was actually told to us?), the new Governor appears to have seized the position by assassination and magnanimously allows Paul to go anywhere he likes. In truth, I can't blame anyone but myself for this slight change of the story, since it's exactly the sort of thing I tended to do and would continue to do to an even greater extent - with much more controversial results - in my third year.

 

I don't think Mrs Dutton really minded me doing this. Like I said, she was easy to talk to, and though this strip doesn't have a mark or any comments to tell me how she felt with it, she was generally comfortable with me being a bit of a joker and probably understood that, despite my occasional disrespect for the absolute truth of every detail in these stories, I did at least tend to get the gist right, I didn't treat the stories with contempt, and she probably knew that, coming from a non-religious background, I really wasn't quite as invested in them as perhaps I otherwise might be.

 

At first glance, my wife was really worried about me uploading this - mainly because of the words "Dirty Jew!" on the first page and her misconstrued view that Paul was deliberately portrayed as "hook-nosed" - both of which might, out of context, be seen as anti-semitic. She of course knew that I didn't have an anti-semitic bone in my body right now, but she worried that perhaps, when I was 13, I might not have been so enlightened.

 

Thankfully I only had to show her it again more closely to prove that her memory was mistaken. Yes, someone does call Paul a "dirty Jew" on the second panel of the first page. Another Jew, in fact. This is mainly because it was pretty much drummed into us that orthodox Jews weren't allowed to mix with non-Jews (or gentiles) because they were thought to be impure or unclean, and could therefore contaminate the Jewish community. Paul's conversion to Christianity naturally meant he would have spent considerable time mixing with gentiles and, therefore, though he is initially welcomed by his former friends when he returns to Jerusalem, it turns out to have been a trap to lure him into a false sense of security, and when he tries to enter the temple, a crowd of angry Jews try to attack and kill him. Of course, these days I'd probably try to come up with a different way of saying it, but the "Dirty Jew" line is just there as a reason/reminder of why they might want to hurt him.

 

Note also that the fourth angry Jew calls Paul a "scab". This is basically because it was written during the mid-80s miners' strike, which affected our family directly, and would have been hurled at my Dad quite furiously when he decided to go back to work before the end of the strike. It was just a funny line, I thought, to end the exchange, but also something relevant from the time which made the story more my own.

 

The other complaint about Paul being stereotypically hook-nosed is I think a total misreading of what I was doing. It was a favourite trick of mine at the time to give my cartoon characters certain traits which made them stand apart, and Paul here basically (in an attempt, I admit, to make him look weaker, more human and more hapless, but nor for any racist reason - I just didn't think that way) has a permanent cold, his nose dripping every time you see him. This may have been in one sense a way for me to identify with him, since around then, I also seemed to have a cold just about all the time.

 

I could go on, but I've run out of space. Last mentions should go to the reappearance of several characters from other strips I'd done: the Jesus who appears in the toiler is clearly a brown-haired version of Shane Wepherd, while the giant nephew Wayne is based on yet another pisstake of myself who appeared in the school-based strip 1TS (I was taller than everyone else in the first and second year because of my sudden puberty-inspired growth spurt). Final thing is the brief reappearance of Grobschnitt on Page 6. Last time we'd see him till this.

The Sacrifice of Isaac  (September 1985)
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Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (Mar 26th, 1985)
Paul Under Roman Arrest - Page 1 (WARNING: please read text on right before jumping to angry conclusions about my political stance concerning religion)
Paul Under Roman Arrest - Page 2
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Paul Under Roman Arrest - Page 4
Paul Under Roman Arrest - Page 5
Paul Under Roman Arrest - Page 6
The Sacrifice of Isaac
My first real satirical cartoon
Sept 1985
The Quest for
JJ Willybonker
1984
Learning Skruplokian
A guide for travellers
1984
Man of the Future
A scientific illustration
1984
Never Take Sweets
From a Stranger
Mar 26, 1985
Abraham's terrified child Isaac screams in abject fear as his own father raises a knife to murder him in order to show allegiance to a manipulative bullying voice he frequently hears in his head. No, I'm not a fan
Gary Le Strange relaxing in the Comedy Store
JJ Willybonker - I'd be proud to have a name like that and even prouder to write an unfinished book about him
Learning Skruplokian - a genuine guidebook I actually finished, so visitors to the planet Skruplos could communicate with the locals
Man of the Future - a biological examination
An 11-page epic about an acid trip written by a 13-year-old who's never taken drugs