Running from the Devil – Steve Kissing (and friends)
Reviewed by Jeremy Simmons
Is this a coming-of-age novel? A fiction about full-fledged demonic possession, or is both, phrased in a not-so-subtle thematic Christian context? I don’t think Running from the Devil is any of these things, or more precisely I don’t think the author had this intention.
Did I mention this is a graphic novel?
I’ve learned one thing right out of the gate; reviewing a graphic novel is a different process entirely from a prose text. For one thing, I think that 800-1000 words of analysis and opinion are not only unnecessary, but would be a jarring contrast to the colors and pictorial action that leaps off the page in this excellently visualized work.
Author Steve Kissing presumably (the credits are a little unclear) conceived a narrative centered on a young man who is like so many young men on the cusp on adulthood; a little too interested in girls and alcohol, losing interest in his studies and the rules of good conduct…or at least questioning their value, and saddled with a crippling lack of confidence. However, we then have a wrinkle that lifts this story out of the banality of the Teenage Struggle trope: the eponymous Steve Kissing is convinced that he’s in a life-or-death struggle for his very soul not just with demons, but with the Devil Himself. He endures terrifying hallucinations, he spends the day on “high alert”, but dissembles as best he can in front of family and friends, because they mustn’t learn his terrible secret. As Steve’s life, which by the way is unabashedly plugged into the author’s home town of Cincinnati, begins to fall apart, his plunge in Satanic possession forces him to do battle in the only way he knows how: he tries to ‘be good’ by doubling down on conduct in school and at church, there’s even a thinly-veiled crucifix nail reference, the blood by-product of which Steve hopes will earn him much-needed Heavenly credit. Meanwhile, nothing gets better, or not for long.
This kind of text begs that I don’t include a lengthy, detailed summary. Too many spoilers and the effects of the storytelling should be allowed to have their full effect on the reader. There are only two points of analysis I will offer. The first is that it seems the author is giving us a choice to interpret the story line as a genuine (well, not genuine, but real enough to protagonist Steve) attempt at possession by big bad Lucifer, or that the struggles of puberty and beyond, of the inexplicable ennui of the teenager and all the other bad choices Steve makes, are something he filters through a crucible that takes the blame off of his own shoulders and squarely onto Satan’s broad musculature, so theatrically envisioned in the appropriate shades of crimson by the book’s artist. The second point of analysis is one I’m not sure I’ve decided on myself; is this a Christian ‘message’ wrapped up in a tempting package for today’s youth -the ragingly popular graphic novel- or do Christian (Catholic, to be specific) themes play second fiddle to secular sufferings and trials of Steve’s pivotal teenage years? Is the religious aspect, in fact, just a setting for a human story? Steve himself addresses this point, perhaps obliquely, in an afterword at the back of the novel where he downplays his own religious devotion, and I think this novel, if thematic in nature, is more focused on showing other teenagers that they’re not alone in the darkness they face.
By the way, the art in this book is absolutely first-rate. I’m not a graphic novel reader so I don’t have the chops to make much in the way of intelligent commentary, but I’ve seen enough to know this work is excellent. Altogether this team put together a beautiful book. I felt it important to mention that.
140pp Markosia Enterprises Ltd; Graphic Novel ed. edition (April 23, 2018) Illustrated by Jim Jiminez
Illustrated by Jim Jiminez