The sixth graphic novel by author Dacia Palmerino and illustrator Andrea Grosso Ciponte, Renegade: Martin Luther, the Graphic Biography (Plough, 2017), is a nuanced portrait of a towering figure—a man both revered and reviled within his own story.
The Italian collaborators’ unique visual approach to Luther’s story allows readers to immerse themselves fully in the 16th century, seeing the world through the reformer’s eyes. Renegade doesn’t attempt to provide a comprehensive biography—the authors feel that others have already done so effectively—but offers a bold, balanced and beautifully rendered entry in the genre.
Living Lutheran heard from Palmerino and Ciponte (jointly, through a translator) about the making of Renegade and the motivation behind its creation.
Living Lutheran: What inspired you to reimagine Luther’s life through the graphic novel medium, and what were you considering as you built the book’s aesthetic?
Palmerino and Ciponte: When we were offered the chance to participate in a selection for the creation of a graphic novel on Martin Luther, we thought a lot about how to set it up. Our previous works (the Dust Novel series for Faust Editions) are characterized by visual and narrative experiments—not suitable for a book aimed at a wider audience like Renegade. Graphically, we chose to use a very realistic style, implying impartiality about the facts narrated.
What do you see as different about your biography from other books about Luther’s life—even other graphic novels about his life?
We tried to exploit the graphic novel medium in its language peculiarities, not limiting ourselves only to illustrating historical events, but looking for narrative-graphic solutions that were more effective in communicating them. There are obviously many exceptions, but usually in popular comics we tend to give the image a subordinate role to the word. In Renegade, we tried to make the story and images coexist equally, narrated through vignettes with textual scenes that go into more historical detail.
How does faith inform and inspire your art?
We are not believers. We did not feel that this created problems for us since the facts dealt with in the book are historically documented. And perhaps it gave us a good perspective to be able to extricate ourselves from the various legends, for or against Luther, that over the years have surrounded the biography.
What are you hoping for your audience as they read and interact with your book?
We tried to make a graphic novel strictly based on established historical facts, but by necessity one cannot be exhaustive on many aspects due to the very nature of the medium. We could not make theological dissertations, for example. That was not our competence. There are many texts available that give a deeper history. Our goal was to create a primarily artistic contribution. Someone who would not reach for a large book might be willing to discover Luther’s story through art.
Renegade explores both the celebrated and the shadow sides of Luther’s life. How did you decide what to include and how to illustrate it?
Wanting to be impartial, we could not avoid telling the controversial aspects of the character. The book follows the whole life of Luther, so we tried to give space to the various periods, in proportion to the historical timeline. Even here we could not be exhaustive in explaining all the reasons behind Luther’s actions, but we tried to illustrate the context in which this man developed specific choices that affected his life and, ultimately, the course of history.