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The Wolverton Bible - Introduction: "Wolverton and Armstrong" by Monte Wolverton Print
Article Index
The Wolverton Bible - Introduction: "Wolverton and Armstrong" by Monte Wolverton
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As early as 1942 Armstrong had suggested to Wolverton that the comic industry would soon decline — that Wolverton would be wise not to rely on comics for his livelihood. He encouraged Wolverton to pursue his biblical studies. With Armstrong’s publishing and broadcasting efforts expanding, he was preparing Wolverton for more active involvement.

But Wolverton’s involvement in Armstrong’s publishing efforts would not come for another decade. His first major project for Armstrong was a series of illustrations based on the book of Revelation. Most of these Apocalyptic illustrations originally appeared in Plain Truth magazine later reprinted in two booklets, 1975 in Prophecy and The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last, as well as other church publications. These illustrations appear in Part 7 of this volume, and they arguably include Wolverton’s finest serious work.

Wolverton working on The Bible Story while vacationing at spirit lake, Washington, circa 1967
Wolverton working on The Bible Story at Spirit Lake, WA, circa 1967.

The second body of work commissioned by Armstrong was far larger, and comprises the first six parts of this volume — The Bible Story. The first mention in print of this project is in a letter from Herbert Armstrong to Wolverton dated July 1950. Another letter from 1952 discusses the idea of a Bible narrative done completely in comic strip format. The two men certainly had other discussions as to the nature of the project, which continued to evolve. Throughout 1953, Wolverton records in his journal that he is working on a “Noah’s Ark” story, which apparently included the creation account. The project as it was originally conceived consisted of large illustrations with captions which carried the story.

But the “Noah’s Ark” project was delayed because of temporary financial difficulties in the church. During that delay, the project morphed into a much larger, text-intensive project — one that would provide a sort of popularized Bible commentary for the historical narrative portions of the Old Testament. Armstrong also realized this could become an attractive serialized feature in his magazine. In 1957, Wolverton was commissioned to proceed on a full story of the Old Testament accompanied by illustrations, as opposed to the earlier concept.

The story was finally rolled out in the november 1958 issue of Plain Truth magazine. it continued in every issue through chapter 133, until December 1969. With the launch of Tomorrow’s World magazine in January of 1970, it was felt that The Bible Story (now renamed The Story of Man) was more suitable for this publication. Plain Truth was being positioned as a magazine of world news, social issues and science versus religion, and Tomorrow’s World carried more Biblical content. Serialization in Tomorrow’s World continued until chapter 156 in April 1972, ending with the “handwriting on the wall,” presaging the fall of Babylon.

in 1961, Armstrong had decided to bind the serialized Bible Story into volumes. These original six volumes (1961 thorough 1968) were distrubuted to WCG members around the time of the church’s spring or fall festivals, to encourage generous offerings.

From the beginning, both Wolverton and Armstrong sought to create a story that followed the Biblical account more accurately than children’s Bible story books on the market in the 1950s. Most of these books, following a sentimental tradition that had developed in the 19th century, laundered the narrative into something suitable and non-frightening for children. Wolverton did not want his story to seem religious, sanctimonious or churchy. He wanted it to come across as a straightforward account, with edgy, challenging illustrations. He hoped that his product would be read by secular types and well as religious. The Biblical account of Noah’s flood, for instance, was popularly portrayed with cute animals, a big boat and a kindly old man. The Biblical narrative, by contrast, is a disaster story of cataclysmic proportions, in which millions of people and animals violently die. Wolverton’s challenge was to portray the biblical accounts accurately without traumatizing children too much. Yet from his background in comics, he understood that children actually enjoy a certain amount of violence (how it effects them is another topic). In this way he was a pioneer for later comic artists, beginning in the 1970s, who would bring a more realistic interpretation to graphic renditions of the Bible.

In the second bound edition of The Bible Story, however, editors deleted the illustration of drowning people clawing at the ark (page 37), to avoid complaints from worried parents. several other drawings that were not included for similar reasons are mild by today’s standards. Wolverton received numerous letters over the years complaining about the horror and violence in his version of the Bible, but he never backed down from his position that the Old Testament needed to be depicted for what it was.

Wolverton’s working method for The Bible Story was similar to that which he had developed over decades of working in comics. He would become familiar with the scripture passages, read relevant commentaries and other works, and sometimes consult his associates in Pasadena for historical questions. Then he would write a first draft by hand in his characteristic block lettering style. Later, either he or his wife would type pages for mailing to Pasadena. His clipboard with drafts in progress always accompanied him on vacations and camping trips. For illustrations, he would select two or three scenes from each chapter. Often skipping roughs, he would pencil the image onto his Strathmore bristol and ink it. He preferred to rise at about 7 a.m., interspersing his work with household chores such as mowing the lawn, spading the garden or running errands. Most of his work was accomplished late at night, often until 1 or 2 a.m. The small black and white television in his studio was always on — tuned to daytime soap operas, old movies, boxing matches or Friday night professional wrestling. He would stop work from Friday sundown through Saturday sundown, as he observed the Saturday sabbath (he did not have a problem with watching professional wrestling or boxing during that time, however).

Because he spent long hours on The Bible Story and other work for the church, he felt comfortable taking an occasional few days to work on freelance projects for clients such as MAD, Cracked, Plop!, and Topps Chewing Gum. Wolverton commented that these projects were a kind of dessert for him after days of working on the comparatively serious work of The Bible Story.

Armstrong by Wolverton, 1962
Armstrong by Wolverton, 1962.

Armstrong wanted Wolverton to move to Pasadena. He offered to ordain him an evangelist (the top ministerial rank in WCG, under Armstrong) and give him an office and secretary. Wolverton considered the move, pondering the idea of a home in Tarzana, in the San Fernando valley, a comfortable distance from church headquarters. But ultimately he declined the offer for three reasons: 1) The idea of an office, a secretary and wearing a suit and tie every day did not appeal to Wolverton, 2) He didn’t like the hot climate. He preferred the Northwest and its proximity to forests, water and fishing, 3) He had deep roots in Vancouver, with family and many friends living there. During the 1940s, a move to New York would have furthered his career in the comic industry — but he chose to remain in Vancouver.

Meanwhile in the ‘50s and ‘60s the growing WCG was becoming increasingly institutionalized and legalistic. Members who dissented with church teaching or authority were subject to being “disfellowshipped” and shunned.

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