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Touching a Nerve: A Curly Collection of Church Cartoons by Jim

Book Review: Touching a Nerve: A Curly Collection of Churchy Cartoons by Jim.

Chris Grantham —

Brendan Boughen ("Jim"), Auckland: Self-Published, 2019. 132pp, ISBN: 978-0-473-50343-7 $15.16 (Kindle), $30 from Jim's website: https://cartoonsbyjim.com

I could never draw to save myself. My daughter passed me in drawing ability at age four. My granddaughter passed me at age three. But I've always loved cartoons. Among them standouts include Tom Scott (Dominion Post), Emmerson, Bromhead, Body (NZ Herald), Matt and Alex (both in the UK Telegraph), and Australian National Living Treasure Michael Leunig. Leunig is whimsical, innocent, gently poking the borax.

So is Jim. Some of his cartoons have been called “blasphemous”, “offensive”, “shocking” – while others have won awards. I've just read 120 thoughtful and inspired editorial opinion pieces in full colour cartoon format in 15 minutes. I must have completely missed the blasphemous, offensive and shocking ones, so I read them all again. Still drew a blank on the BOS ones (perhaps indicating a variation on the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”) – but I understand why others won awards. One of my favourites, which received wide media coverage at the time, has a sobering, poignant, pungent, powerfully prophetic image, and was published before Donald Trump’s 2016 election as US president.

Others draw forth a gut-busting laugh. Jim’s aim is “to provoke those inside churches to think about how what happens to them within those walls affects what they do outside of them.” He does it well. The friendly critique he offers can help us see the ironies and absurdities of some of our faith practices, and it is the likes of Jim who have helped me change.

Brendan Boughen (Jim’s creator and alter-ego) is another in the line of Aussie/Kiwis who offer a distinctive vibrancy to humour. In his own way, Boughen stands alongside iconic Trans-Tasman comics like John Clarke and Barry Humphries (yes, he is, sort of: one of BH’s wives was a Kiwi). Boughen grew up in a traditional Lutheran household. His dad was a minister – and so he knows the Church well from the inside. For the first 30 years of his life, “every day was incredibly churchy”, so he cartoons from that base. The book covers an array of themes – plenty are of church and faith, but also include inter-related issues of politics, society and social justice.

I lapped up the “Jubi-latte” option served in heaven’s coffee shop, noted Jim’s frequent commentary on our real national religion (and particularly at Rugby World Cup time), and admired the gorgeous super-heroine “Amazing Grace”. Some of the cartoons refer to particular news events of the time – and where necessary, Jim provides web links to the relevant items to ensure a 2020 (or 2021 reader) can connect with the original story that triggered his cartoon. Some of the images became stories in themselves after first appearing on the billboards at Auckland’s St Matthew-in-the-City and the Community of St Luke in Remuera, and the headlines and web links to the media reportage complement the cartoons. Also included is a bunch of Bonus Christmas Cartoons – I thought they’d make great Christmas cards (remember them?) Then, on checking, discovered they are already thus available – on Jim’s website. Instant satisfaction…

Many of the cartoons reflect life in the more established mainline denominational churches, and the would-be-trendy-contemporary-vicar (who isn’t). Even the characters’ names tend to reflect a retiring/dying generation: Jeff, Bob, Howard, Nigel, Roger and the like. Not Noah, Ethan, Harry, Archie.

I loved the printed book with its living colours. Turn the pages, smile. But what’s it like on Kindle? Standard Kindle readers don’t yet do colour (though there are alternate colour e-readers), so the experience is a little weakened by black and white. But at least my Kindle is still portable, always with me. As is my Kindle phone app – thereon the colour is full, great! However, for some reason, my phone app version produces the cartoons in the size of a postage-stamp (remember them?) A double-tap restores them to proper size, all good. Sadly the Kindle version missed one of my favourites in the pure have-a-laugh category – the cartoon on the back cover was absent. But no worries, Jim has kindly let me reprint it here. And if you buy the book-book version you’ll have it! (I passed on these comments to Jim, and the techo-wizards are working on it. Your Kindle might just have it better than mine. Check it out!)

“It's church, Jim, but not as we know it.” Well, perhaps closer than we might think… Thanks, Jim for the multi-level inspiration.

Chris Grantham is a writer and sometime stand-up comedian, and has served variously as a chartered accountant, school teacher and leader of a range of Christian agencies. He also did a stint as interim pastor – of a churchy place.