Sean Michael Wilson discusses his new graphic novel about a man who decides to test his faith by breaking every one of the Ten Commandments.
When I Googled ‘Dallas, Texas’ this morning [Editor’s note: this column was written July 8th. Apologies for the late posting. –JG, FE], the first thing that came up was a hit from CNN and a link to their updated coverage on the violence that occurred during the July 6th Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas. At least one protestor and eleven police officers were wounded by what President Barack Obama has called “a vicious, calculated, despicable attack on law enforcement”—an attack that has cost five officers their lives, so far. This violence comes on the heels of the attack at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. What do we do when these kinds of waves of death roll through? It’s becoming such a normal occurrence that I’m not quite sure what to do with it. What do you do after this kind of thing? According to my Facebook, most people run to their status update box and offer various levels of support for whatever side of the conflict they fall on, some turn immediately to art and share it, some decide to share their thoughts in a passive-aggressive status that mocks people caring about the causes at the center of whatever latest violent thing has happened, and some (and this is where I usually fall) say nothing.
But, what interests me, as far as Facebook responses go, are those who immediately respond with “Pray for XYZ.” I have gone through, and continue to go through, my own ideas of faith, and nothing gets me pondering the existence of some greater something quite like the constant, mindless-seeming death of innocent people.
What do you do with that?
This is the question that Sean Michael Wilson (Author) and Michiru Morikawa (Artist) set out to answer in Breaking the 10 Vol. 1. After surviving a car crash that kills his wife and son, David Walker decides to turn his back on his Christian faith and put himself on a quest to prove whether or not God actually does exist by breaking the Ten Commandments, the most sacred laws of Christianity. (If you’re looking for their location in the Bible, you can find them in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:4-21, though if you’ve managed to get through your life without learning about these rules, then I want to know your secret.) The Ten Commandments make for a long list, which means that David has a lot of work cut out for him, and which easily explains why this story has been broken into two volumes.
Lucky for David, two men, identified as Mr. Black and Mr. White appear to help him along his journey in their own ways. Mr. White serves, clearly, as a possible representative of Someone Upstairs and Mr. Black is the voice of Humanism (or Atheism or Secularism, pick your label). These two stalk and communicate with David as he goes about his mission to break the rules with their own agendas: Mr. White is working to bring David back into the holy fold even as he continues to sin, and Mr. Black serves as a happy cheering section—until a very real sit-down occurs and Mr. Black is able to explain the core belief of Humanists (or Atheists), as he sees it. I enjoyed the graphic novel and found myself surprised when it ended on the main character expressing, in some fashion, “God help me.” As someone who enjoys theological and political studies as a side-hobby, Breaking the 10’s story really interested me and got me thinking about a few things – luckily, the questions that lingered in my head didn’t have to stay there—luckily, Breaking the 10’s author was willing to answer those questions!
PLAYBACK:stl: How did you decide that this was the story you wanted to tell?
Sean Michael Wilson: Well, in case anyone thinks I got the ‘Breaking’ bit from the TV series Breaking Bad, the book is from an original idea of mine that I had before that TV series came out—honest! As it goes, I wrote the basic idea out in a notebook from about 2007, and had it in the back of my mind for years while I was doing other books. It started to become a bit of a worrying idea as I was thinking “I know what I want to do on this story, but I am not sure about how.’ Most of the time, I’m confident about the books I write, I don’t worry much. But this Breaking the 10 story became something that I kept putting off as I didn’t have a clear idea of how to do it. But then I wrote the whole 100 pages out in a blaze of inspiration last summer. I’m presently writing volume 2 this summer and that is also going very well. As they say, it’s almost writing itself (although I notice that if I don’t move my fingers around the keyboard the story does not write itself!).
As to the basic idea, it suddenly came to me as a good idea: ‘A person who breaks all 10 commandments, deliberately. Hmm, that could be interesting.’ Then I wrote about a half page note on it in that 2007 notebook. Since then, I became more interested in the idea of the negative elements of religion as contrasts with humanism. I’ve been reading books by the well-known critics, Christopher Hitchens, Lawrence Krauss, Sam Harris, etc. So, we [Wilson and artist Hunt Emerson] did a more academic-style book about that in 2015, with input from the British and American Humanist Associations, called Goodbye God?, with an intro by Lawrence Krauss himself. So, in a way, Breaking the 10 is a fictional exploration of the same territory, but with the more emotional and personal elements that a fictional story can bring.
How would you rank the Commandments from easiest to break to worst? Does it mirror the book?
The easiest to break are the ones that almost everyone breaks anyway, without thinking. Firstly, “Keep the Sabbath holy.” How many people do that nowadays? One percent, maybe? I guess if we consider “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain,” then most people do that, right? But in researching the actual meaning of that Commandment, I found that it also extends to people like public officials making an oath before god, and then if they cheat and abuse their power they are also breaking that Commandment. That is a very common thing, too, right?
Or how about “You shall have no other gods before Me”? People who worship Michael Jackson or actors or pop stars like that are treating them rather like gods, that they think of and commit themselves to more than they do to Jesus, it often seems. Not that I am saying they should not do it: I am not a Christian and don’t necessarily support the commandments, though some of them seem sensible. For example, not killing seems like a rather good idea to me!
In the story we see that the rather silly Commandments that seem out of date give us an opportunity to have comedic scenes, sarcasm, and even some slapstick humour. As you can see, the book is on a serious basic theme and the situation of the main character, David, is tragic and moving. But because of the rather ridiculous nature of some of the Commandments, the whacky personality of the Mr. Black character and the pompousness of the Mr. White character, there is also a lot of humour in it.
Was the lack of color a narrative decision?
No, a money decision! It’s cheaper for the publisher. Most of my books are in black and white. So, far I’ve only had 4 books in colour. For me that is fine, I prefer black and white, though I know that some have a negative image of black and white (for silly reasons, I think). Although in this case, the characters are called Black and White, so it matches.
Vol. 1 ends with David asking God to help him. Is this a teaser for Volume 2?
I planned it to be a two-volume series (though some other reviewer, who shall go unnamed, seemed not to notice this despite it saying clearly so on the book, as they wrote in their review that volume 1 did not resolve the story. Of course not, there is another volume to come! Duuhh…). The ending of vol. 1 is very desperate and sad, despite the bits of humour as they go along. I deliberately left that vague at the end, with David saying “God help me.” Is he saying this with his heart? Repenting? Or is it just a saying, a phrase without deeper meaning? Or something else?
As I said, I am writing vol. 2 now. (Well, not right now! But I will go back to it after I answer your questions.) In this volume, David will continue to break the Commandments, and Mr. Black and Mr. White will continue to try to influence him. The big questions then are: will he break the BIG one—“Thou shalt not kill”? Can he really do that terrible thing?
And if he attempts that, will God finally appear—and try to stop him?
Anyway, I will finish writing the script in Autumn and then pass it on to Michiru to begin her wonderful art magic. | Catherine Bathe
Click here for a preview of Breaking the 10, courtesy of NBM Publishing.