cover image Joseph Smith and the Mormons

Joseph Smith and the Mormons

Noah Van Sciver. Abrams ComicArts, $29.99 (464p) ISBN 978-1-4197-4965-0

Van Sciver (One Dirty Tree) pulls off an ambitious feat: a nuanced graphic biography of Mormonism’s founder. In 1825, treasure hunter Joseph Smith (1805–1844) tells Emma Hale about his visions of an ancient record etched on gold plates. Against her family’s wishes, they marry and return to Smith’s home in Upstate New York to dig it up. Smith, using a seer stone, translates the record and publishes it as the Book of Mormon. He gains followers preaching about “Zion” and establishes a community in Kirtland, Ohio (though the locals tar and feather him). After his upstart bank fails, he decamps with believers to Illinois, where the recently converted, scheming John Cook Bennett helps establish a new city with sweeping political independence. After Bennett is ousted for immorality, and some leaders vehemently reject Smith’s teaching on polygamy, Smith ends up murdered by a mob. Van Sciver captures how the faithful hung on Smith’s charismatic oratory, and depicts spiritual innovations such as God as a deified human and baptism on the behalf of dead relatives. Van Sciver makes an intriguing artistic choice to present supernatural events, like Joseph’s visions of angels, in blue outline, and his oddly proportioned, oft-grimacing character drawings add levity and personality. Van Sciver was raised Mormon and expertly threads the needle here, allowing space for genuine belief while highlighting human moments of doubt, dissembling, and anger in the Latter-day Saint prophet. It’s an exemplar graphic narrative, reminiscent of Chester Brown’s Louis Riel, and will resonate with both believers and skeptics. Agent: Matthew Carnicelli, Carnicelli Literary Management. (July)