One perk of being “the” recognized expert in Mormon comics is that every once in a while, people come to me and share what they’re working on. These past couple weeks, I’ve gotten all sorts of free swag in the mail from creators. The Book of Mormon stuff I’ll share with you now.
iPlates is the ???ly named Book of Mormon adaptation that first appeared in Sunstone. The first story featured Ammon arriving in the land of Ishmael, and the tale never quite gels. But the script is by Sunstone editor Stephen Carter and the drawings are by Sunstone‘s most visible cartoonist Jett Atwood and they gave themselves another shot.
I’m glad they did. The Ammon story was too indebted to manga (it even, in a rather clever move, read right to left from the back of the magazine) with those cheezy face changings, etc. You should never judge a serial comic by its first appearance, however. The nature of working with the same material over and over again means things will be refined, both writing and drawing. To illustrate, consider the following: .
One way Carter and Atwood found their proper pace was in ditching the better known stories. After starting Ammon, they abandon him as he stands with a pile of arms in front of the king, instead jumping through space to pick up with Zeniff. And if the name Zeniff doesn’t immediately bring to mind a hundred adaptations, that’s exactly why I think Zeniff was a great plan. (Incidentally, were I writing a critical analysis, my first question would be Why is Carter’s interest fixated on stories of Nephites trying to peacefully engage Lamanites?)
iPlates is a supersized 8½x11 book. Most stories are in black and white. Atwood’s rough lines give the work an almost constant freneticism. Ignoring the slice of Ammon, volume one starts with Zeniff’s first trip to Lamanite lands and ends with Alma having just fled King Noah. From Carter’s notes at the end:
But I still had a hard time [when reading the Book of Mormon] connecting with the characters. I never knew what motivated them. Why was Nephi righteous? Why was King Noah wicked? Did Chemish really have nothing interesting to say about his life? Maybe I missed the class on Book of Mormon characters at EFY.
Writing the iPlates gave me the chance to really dig into these character’s heads—to see their human side, to understand what kind of struggles they might have gone through. And it worked! I actually got so attached to Abinadi that I teared up when (spoiler alert for all those naughty people who haven’t actually read the Book of Mormon) I wrote his martyrdom scene.
This collection is best described as historical fiction—with an emphasis on the fiction. So don’t go telling your Sunday school teacher that (spoiler alert) Abinadi’s disguise of choice was an afro wig. It ain’t so. I use actual Book of Mormon events to structure the stories, but I make up most of the stuff in between.
Abinidi’s disguise is indeed pretty hilarious (though I found his martyrdom too abbreviated to be terribly moving). My wife found iPlates much the funnier of the two comics I’m reviewing this week. My kids were often confused by the iPlates story, but in the final analysis they said they enjoyed iPlates “way more” than the competition because it was longer (this is unfair, as you will see tomorrow) and because it stuck closer to the original story. Which . . . may or may not be true (I’m limited in my ability to make this comparison also for those reasons you’ll see tomorrow).
Certainly, my kids are not yet familiar enough with the Book of Mormon to see how much more extended Abinidi’s role is in the iPlates universe, for instance. And while I didn’t tear up when Abinidi died, his expanded role in these comics was thoughtful and potentially insightful.
As a throwaway final comment before we get to the gallery, may I just say that I enjoyed the frontispieces? Based on old pulp images, silent-movie posters, greek vases, midcentury American high-school yearbook covers—these were fun for the adults in the house. May we see many more volumes in the future.