The Beginning

I first came upon the original God of Arepo story when I was 19, and the emotional aftermath was devastating. Like everyone else who read this, I wept, but I was also left shaken: its small scale; its elevation of the mundane with such care, devotion and gentleness on the same scale an epic would give to its retelling of deity, glory and warfare; its down-to-earth, almost pluralistic spirituality, connecting godliness to human love and kindness. This story was the distilled embodiment of everything I wanted to evoke and cultivate in my own work. 

I wanted to adapt the story into comics form for a long time (as a tribute to it), but there were a couple of things in the way: excuse and reach.

The excuse part was because I was super busy juggling my multiple comics and duties, so I needed some external motivation to justify taking on TGOA as a project. The reach part was because I had it in my head to link my adaptation to charity - the more people who read this comic, the more donations possible. Plus it wouldn't hurt to spread the good word of Arepo's god outside of my network, regardless if they throw in a coin.

Fortunately, I was accepted into Shortbox's 2nd Digital Comics Festival in 2022.

My adaptation is 45? pages long and follows the story faithfully, with some adjustments to suit the comics medium. Particularly I wanted to represent the god of transcient nothingness not as a personification, but as its domain itself: silent panels of mundane beauties, - the boundary between forest and meadow, the skin of the apple as it breaks between teeth, the tinge of rot as a flower blooms, the dust that floats within a sunbeam - the small things. The majority of the visuals will be just that (as you will see in the sketch sample), similar in approach to illustrator Alessandro Sanna's The River.

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My visual-narrative approach and art direction for TGOA is primarily centered on one concept: the god has no character design.

One small reasoning behind this is that the other, earlier comics adaptation by another artist already interprets the god as fully anthropomorphised: silhouetted, male? (well, the default body plan of a person), conveying emotion via facial expression. Obviously I can't really expand on that. Instead, I was at odds with it.

There is nothing at all wrong or bad with this interpretation - it's what most of history has done to divinity anyway, whether poly or monotheistic. However, personally, I'm not convinced by it, given what the god represents: transcient beauty, the small things, life and death itself... In other words, the Japanese concept of mono no aware.

The core action behind mono no aware is awareness: to behold a thing, to give it attention and time, and celebrate its existence while it is here with you. The kinds of things mono no aware beholds can be sensual or metaphysical: the seasons changing, the warm fog of soup, the devotion of a farmer, the kindness of strangers, the marks of friendship that cascade across time and manifest in small gestures that appear only in the moment, etc.

Awareness is the thesis behind TGOA. Sadoeuphemist (the original writer that first came up with the premise and characters) never describes the god with a human face or body. The god does perform physical actions, like plucking a leaf, but I interpret Sadoeuphemist's authorial choice as bringing attention to human-like actions performed by a natural force, or rather, to bring attention to the events in nature that may be appropriated for the purpose of narrative empathy.

For example, the god's voice is described as "like the rustling of the wheat, like the squeaks of fieldmice running through the grass" as a way for the reader to first, imagine the sound and tone of the god's voice (soft, quiet, withdrawn, defeated; in contrast to the typical presentation of gods as having booming, grand, otherworldly voices). Secondly, and most importantly to the thesis, in order to make the voice happen, the reader must conjure in their mind's eye the swaying of the wheat, the 'ssh-sshk-shhk' noise as stalks brush against another, the 'wheek wheek' of mice as their tiny feet hop across the grass - where are those fieldmice going? In conjuring these real-world images to form the god's personality, the reader becomes aware of wheat and grass, of their look and sound and context in the world, when they wouldn't otherwise. This transformative effect is present across the entire short story, though by the third chapter the god has become human (different writer).

If the god is designed as human, that totally bypasses the aforementioned transformative, mono no aware process happening inside the reader's head when they connect nature to god. The human god and imagery is decoupled: the god is no longer one with the imagery, instead it is external to the imagery. That's why, to me, anthropomising the god like that doesn't give justice to the small things in the world the original three writers are telling us to see.

Additionally, in a philosophical sense (in the context of how it drives the narrative), the god as not human, but as an animistic force hinges closer to folk experiences with divinity within nature, common in East Asia, indigenous beliefs, and the folk religion of the probable setting of this story. It also represents my lived experience with the world - when I admire the taste of a good bowl of rice or the colour of a beetle chilling at my balcony I behold those small things only, as they are. And finally, artistically, the god as human will rob me of indulging in the one of the key, formalistic quality of comics: the ability of panels to reify the drawings inside of it as critical to the reader's attention and experience of the story. 

So, in my adaptation, the god manifests itself as nature. The worms that churn beneath the earth. The boundary of forest and of field. The first hint of frost before the first snow falls. The skin of an apple as it yields beneath your teeth. Everything else that Arepo loves and we love, too. The god expresses itself through panels, through imagery. The reader doesn't have to imagine the nature anymore, but they still have to make the transformative link, to use my drawing of a leaf as a springboard to their memory of its smell and greenness and where it sits with the landscape, and connect all that to the god's state of mind.

At the end when the god reunites with Arepo, Stu-pot describes the god's emotions as highly anthropomorphised: "the squinting corners of the god’s eyes wept down onto curled lips." But I see this differently. When I was visualising the adaptation, and of this moment in particular, I was seized by this imagery in my head.

The radial form of a flower, as if stretching out its leaves and petals to joyfully embrace Arepo, covered in dew.

This flower-dewdrop imagery pretty much sealed and guided my adaptation's visual-narrative approach.