The Right Reverend Andrew M.L. Dietsche, the Bishop Coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, made a guest presentation on Thursday, January 24, for the winter course Cartoons, Theology and Relationship with God.
Bp. Dietsche taught about the history of cartooning in the United States from the early twentieth century, noting the influence of surrealism on early comic strips such as Nemo in Slumberland, Krazy Kat, and Polly and Her Pals. Great comic strips, he said, have a theological character as constructions of alternative realities. “Virtually all humor today has given over to irony,” he asserted. “In the great days of cartooning, there was no irony. There was absurdity. Absurdity strips the cover off reality, which raises other possibilities.” Later comic strips notable for constructing alternative realities, he said, were Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side.
The Parables of Jesus are similar to cartoons, Bp. Dietsche added, in that they, too, are humorous and also create an alternative reality, the Kingdom of Heaven. Those who heard the Parables, as Jesus told them, often would have found them very funny. “I think Jesus was hilarious,” he laughed.
For the class, Bp. Dietsche also presented some of his own cartoons and discussed his artistic process, including his use of steel nib pens instead of brushes. Before he was ordained in The Episcopal Church, Bp. Dietsche worked as a graphics artist and cartoonist. He continues to contribute cartoons to such periodicals as The Episcopal New Yorker.
The Cartoons, Theology and Relationship with God course, taught by Ascetical Theology Professor Clair McPherson, a longtime friend of Bp. Dietsche, examined not only the theological, but also the spiritual character of cartoons. As both literature and art, for example, cartoons offer a medium for engaging the holy through both imagination and gaze. The course was presented jointly as an Ascetical Theology elective and as part of the Seminary’s Spiritual Guidance of Children program.