Natalie D'Arbeloff is the blogger behind Blaugustine, a delightful blog filled with wit and insight. (If you are new to her blog, she suggests beginning with this introduction, which offers a trip through the archives.) Since 2004, she has been writing, illustrating, and serially blogging a work called The God Interviews, in which her alter ego, Augustine, interviews -- you guessed it -- God.
As this page explains, the early strips (episodes 1-14) are now no longer archived at Blaugustine -- because they're in print! I just picked up a copy of The God Interviews, volume one. (If you'd like a preview, Natalie has published the book's brief foreword, and a preview of chapter six, here.) Here's a little taste -- one of the early pages, in which Blaugustine and God discuss the interview's implications for Blaugustine's blogging career:
I suspect the name of Natalie's alter ego isn't coincidental, though this Augustine could hardly be less like the famous church father. (They both have pivotal relationships with God, I guess, but there the similarities end.) This Augustine is by turns funny, poignant, petulant, and inquisitive -- and the God to whom she speaks is delightfully personal, personable, and wise.
Natalie's God is nondenominational, or maybe transdenominational. I love that He appears as a Black man -- balding, with wispy white hair. I eschew representational language for God most of the time, but if I'm reading someone else's gendered depiction of God, I tend to imagine whiteness, probably because I am white and I project my own appearance into my imagining of God. So seeing Him with beautiful cocoa skin startled me at first, in the best possible way.
This is a theological comic book with both heart and whimsy. One of my favorite pages comes at the very end of chapter six (previewed here) -- the Eternitree, where God is having a simultaneous one-on-one chat with just about everyone. Putting it in plain words makes it sound corny, but Natalie's illustration is warm and bright and real.
She doesn't shy away from the tough questions. In chapter four, a teary Augustine says, "I'm sorry, but I have to ask about evil." God explains that free will enables us to choose badly, if we want to, but that God's plan presumes we will ultimately choose love. Augustine is exasperated -- "You mean you're leaving it all to us while you sit and wait for love to rule the world?" No, God replies patiently. "I don't sit and wait. I give interviews. And I look for collaborators." His reply made me smile.
Or take chapter ten, in which Augustine and God -- walking on the beach, swimming, and ultimately surfing on cosmic waves -- talk about death. (I'm reminded of that story I love so much, about the little wave and the big wave in the middle of the ocean, and how the little wave soothes the big wave's fear of dying.) Augustine asks God for a straight answer, but God points out that a wavy one is more His style. I like the way the movement of the waves on the page illustrates not only what He's saying, but how He says it...and there's something endlessly charming to me about the sight of God in swim trunks.
Most of the time Augustine is drawn as an adult, and she and God are about the same size -- making conversation easier, I guess. Sometimes God dwarfs her; sometimes she dwarfs God. At one point she curls up, overwhelmed, in God's arms. Natalie manages to draw her characters in such a way that they feel consistent, despite the cartoony changes in perspective. I never doubt that this is a real and true conversation, even though it's clear that it's not exactly happening in the world as I know it.
Natalie's God is capable of profound sadness. When He reflects on the ways we misunderstand, act hatefully, and generally fail to get the point, His eyes fill with tears in a way that draws me up short. Then again, God as He appears in this book is also capable of humor and joy, and above all, hope. I guess He'd have to be. Like it says in chapter four, God isn't just sitting back and letting us muck things up; He's looking for collaborators. Surely Natalie is one of those collaborators, engaged what my tradition calls tikkun olam, the work of repairing the broken world.
The God Interviews is published by NdA Press, and printed through Lulu.com. You can buy copies here -- and if you do, swing by Blaugustine and let Natalie know what you think. For my money, this is one of the sweetest and smartest graphic novels I've seen in a long time. I'm delighted to own a copy, and honored to be able to call Natalie a friend.