Francis of Assisi is the world’s most popular saint. His life, his joy and his connection to creation has inspired millions of people. His commitment to the poor and the least of these offers a radical challenge to our materialist age. There are many biographies, collections of stories and children’s books which pay homage to the great saint, but none quite like this.
Cartoonist Jay Stoeckl was an aspiring cartoonist. After traveling to Assisi he became a secular Franciscan. Saint Francis and Brother Duck is his graphic retelling of the life of Francis. In these pages we meet the young Francis who dreams of being a glorious knight. His father sends him off to battle arrayed in fine clothes and armor. But before he sees much battle he rescues a duck from some cruel boys. He hears a voice telling him that he misinterpreted his ‘dream.’ In Stoeckl’s retelling, the duck he saved returns home with Francis and remains his companion for the nearly twenty years. The duck narrates this story and in the end this is as much his story as it is Francis’s.
Stoeckl revisits most of the famous Francis stories: the rebuilding the church of San Damiano, his trial before the bishop where he gave the clothes off his back, back to his father, the first followers in Gubbio, Francis preaching to the birds (including a duck), Clare joining the order, Francis’s overcoming brother wolf, Francis preaching to the sultan, and his receiving the stigmata and more.
Brother Duck is a simple and earnest character. He is a faithful friend to Francis and goes with him everywhere but doesn’t always understand Francis. Sometimes he asks probing questions which allow Francis to share his grand theological vision. Other times Brother Duck provides comic relief by being just as slow to understand Francis as the rest of us. In the end the Brother Duck is a faithful interpreter of Francis’s message and legacy.
The back cover says that this graphic novel was ‘designed to inspire ages 8 & up.’ My children are a bit younger than that, and a lot of this book is beyond them; however I found it a fun and imaginative read, full of good humor. My favorite piece of dialogue between Saint Francis and Brother Duck is the following:
Francis (F): Brother Duck? What if all living things were brother or sister to me?
Brother Duck (BD): That would make one really big family!
F: Yeah! and Earth would be our mother.
BD (after a pause): What about alligators? If alligators eat ducks and a duck is your friend would you say, “Brother Alligator, you just ate my best friend brother duck”?
F: I suppose I would simply say, “Brother Alligator, I am so sad you ate my best friend Brother Duck.”
BD (another pause): What about mosquitoes? What if big, hairy creepy Brother Spider catches obnoxious blood-sucking Sister Mosquito–who had just bitten Brother Rattlesnake as he is slowly digesting slimy, disease-bearing- Sister Rat?
F: And the Lord God made them all!
I would recommend this book to any lover of St. Francis. The childlike-faith of Francis is showcased in this format. Young readers and old readers will appreciate what they find in these pages. I give the book four stars: ★★★★☆