I am suffering from a God complex and I hold Liana Finck responsible, shucks, she’s already to blame for making me laugh at least once a day.
Finck’s cartoons, illustrations, and sketches on her Instagram, website, and in The New Yorker (where she is a regular contributor) find comedy in the dilemmas—big and small—facing humanity (and sometimes dogs). She may broach the trouble of there never being enough hours in the day, like when she depicted two people hungry for time slicing up a clock like it’s cake, or she may tackle the frustration of an unreturned Tupperware by having it ironically returned at the owner’s gravesite. She draws the scenarios in simple and imperfect lines that refreshingly betray her hand’s movements. Her style creates an intimacy and a sparsity that punctuates emotion with an astuteness that’ll have you question whether or not she was the fly on the wall.
On April 12, Finck will release a feminist reimagining of The Book of Genesis. Largely through multigenerational family dramas, The Book of Genesis tracks the creation of the universe, the birth of humanity, and the origins of Judaism. The Torah focuses on men’s attempts to realize their desires while seeking God’s guidance, blessings, and approval. However, God’s own genesis is never revealed. Finck remedies that by crafting God’s bildungsroman in her book-length graphic novel Let There Be Light: The Real Story of Her Creation. For the first time we witness God’s growing pains.
In Genesis 1:27, God “created the man in his image,” yet by revealing God is a woman in her adaptation, Finck shows us what it means for humanity to be made in the image of a woman.
In this adaptation, God is a female giant who spends most of her time on a cloud in a loose long dress, with a tiny paper-bag-princess-like crown on her head and a star-tipped wand in her hand. She may be dressed like a fairy Godmother but unlike in fairy tales she is not someone who merely looks out for us, she is our creator whose experiences and characteristics we inherit, as they trickle down from woman to woman through centuries.
The usual suspects—Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, Jacob, Rachel, Leah, Joseph—will make their appearance, but God is always around, or rather, above. Finck’s God is more than an indescribable entity living somewhere on a cloud. She is visible to us and so are the struggles she endures to ensure her desire to be the moral compass people pray to and obey is achieved. Because the primary narrative does not centre on God’s creations, our attention shifts away from how God’s actions influence the lives of these cast of characters into being more concerned about how their actions determine the creator she becomes.
Whether or not you believe God is a woman is not important; Finck isn’t trying to change your mind. She is using God to hold a mirror to society and give women (and men) 300 or so pages to see, understand, and question themselves.
When we meet God she is only starting her job as “creator.” She holds her creations in the palm of her hand as if they exist inside a Polly Pocket.
Part I, the first pocket, encompasses the past: creation, the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah (and his wife who is so inconsequential her name isn’t worth knowing), a warrior named Nimrod, and the erasure of women having babies (men, they really can do it all).
After God creates heaven, the sun, moon, land, and animals, she starts to cry. Longing to rid her loneliness and see herself reflected in her creations, she decides to literally mold new beings from her body. One is jovial while the other is a slinky creature of the night. By Saturday, in typical Finck fashion, we learn God is tired from a hard week of work—filled with the usual tears, fears, and thrills—and takes a “well-deserved nap.” From the beginning, God is presented as someone who is powerful but who is also like (most of) us, tired, humanizing her. We see this again when, further in the story, God is grossed out by frat-like parties. One of the wicked acts that inspire the great flood are wild keggers—the behaviour makes her so sick that her tears and vomit drown almost everything. Humanizing God with humour from the onset makes her relatable; it’s like spending time with a friend you enjoy complaining and laughing with about how tired you are and how gross douchey men are.
When God is in the Garden of Eden, she cannot decide what to name her creations and gives the task to the jovial being. The jovial being names himself Man, and calls God, Jehovah. God, in the mind of Man, is transformed into a stern old fellow with a beard. When Man approaches the creature of the night and says he has decided to name it Woman, the creature refuses and says, “I am Lilith, monster of the night.” The response sends Man into an existential crisis and he becomes an inconsolable blob because the prospect that God, or any other creation isn’t who he has named them to be will mean he doesn’t know everything. So God pretends to be the identity bestowed upon her because she is certain Man will die if he finds out God is female. God then hides because if man were to die she’d be lonely again and also the reaction to the possibility of her being a woman makes her insecure about her own gender; if people were to find out she wouldn’t be listened to or respected. At last, the reason we cannot see God is revealed: she is a woman.
The Garden of Eden is an oasis and God enjoys watching Adam and Eve from above. She escapes her own neurosis into their fantastically problem free life. However, when Eve listens to Lilith and disobeys God by eating an apple from the Tree of Knowledge, Eve then Adam, resolve that they are both fat and ugly and go into hiding. When God finds them and learns of their insecurities, she exiles them to the real world and punishes Lilith. God zaps Lilith into a snake and exiles Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden because in consuming the apple they are no longer blissful playthings for God to amuse herself with, as God angrily surmises “Fear? Shame? Self-hatred? They’re turning into me.” God’s insecurities concerning her appearance influence her worth just as Adam and Eve’s appearance influence theirs.
The concerns are absolutely ridiculous and true. Lately I’ve been looking at my left arm and wondering if it has gained weight; will I ever don a tank top again? However, by Finck exposing the shallowness of our natures as the first sign of knowledge, the importance placed on appearances seems absurd, and so too does God’s decision to hide. Through the mistakes of our creator and our ancestors Finck reminds us to believe in the wonder of a world where our insecurities may not disappear but where we can learn to live life freely in spite of them. Though Adam is afflicted with these same insecurities, in appeasing him by becoming a recluse, God diminishes her own worth and lets man define what something or someone is or isn’t. God gives man the power to believe everything can be an extension of himself. A perception that makes man believe he is God-like, which must help quiet his doubts.
As I read Let There Be Light, my responses to biblical events where punishments occurred started to shift. It may appear as if Finck’s God perpetuates the hysterical stereotype plaguing women if you aren’t aware that the Torah’s God behaves just as tempestuously. Thinking about God through Finck’s gaze allowed me to empathize with God more. The tantrums become understandable.
In the Torah, when the Israelites wander in the desert for 40 years, they whine about not having any meat and (for what feels like the 100th time) harp about being better off in Egypt. God becomes upset and orders Moses to punish them. The Israelites will be given meat for a whole month “until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you,” (Numbers 11:20). When I studied this section in my weekly Torah class, I was quick to discard God’s emotions. How can God inflict such a severe punishment on slaves who are still learning to be free? Are people never allowed to question God? Is God being an antagonist? No. God feels rejected and angry because after all they’ve done for the Israelites they still rather go back to Egypt. I return to this section with Finck’s God in mind. I think about what she and women today give up to even feel a sliver of appreciation and relate that back to the Torah. Great pieces of literature inform one another, and Finck possesses the ability to expand our understanding of God because her creation of God is layered. The lines drawn between protagonist and antagonist, between moral and immoral, are not as defined as the horizon lines God made centuries ago. The world is not black and white and neither should our perception of who or what the creator of the universe should be.
Part II, the second pocket, takes place in the present. Abraham is a monomaniac who wears a turtleneck and wants to be an artist in the city and goes there on God’s advice. Abraham gives birth to Isaac and almost kills him with a KitchenAid knife, Sarah leaves him and changes her name back to Sarai. Isaac meets Rebekah, and the Garden of Eden is a city park. Part III’s pocket is set in the future, but by this point, God might as well be watching Netflix. She’s hardly around. Jacob and Rachel fall in love, Esau marries Leah who is an idol, and when Joseph is pushed down the well he lands in an underwater world ruled by a Sea King rather than a Pharaoh. By the end of Genesis, God appears only briefly, in Joseph’s dreams. She stops playing or communicating with her figurines entirely.
The narrator remarks that in God’s “absence can we begin to comprehend her love for us,” for it is “only then can we see her in ourselves.” For each one of us that line will mean something different, as what we recognize in the absence is relative to our experiences. As someone who identifies as a woman, in God’s absence I see a warning. The warning is to not let myself fall into other peoples’ perceptions of how I am supposed to behave and when I do find myself falling, I must find steady ground, so I, unlike God, don’t disappear.
Female creators have hid behind anonymity or male aliases–from Jane Austen to George Eliot–to be taken seriously, as God does. I have let manboys claim my ideas as their own just as God lets men think they are the master creator(s). I have been malleable and silent in the hopes that people would change on their own. I did not have to wonder if these manboys would die if I ratted them out but I didn’t want to make trouble, I didn’t want to embarrass them; I might have been, and I am ashamed to admit it, too scared to confront them. The first time it happened was in high school. One of my group partners who I sought advice from dismissed a question I wanted to ask in a mock trial as stupid. During the trial, as I, the lead lawyer, started to argue our case, I looked down and saw his questions, which included my stupid one. Like God and many women who have come before me, I allowed my presence to be erased and my worth diminished. In retrospect it is absurd to think about how scared I was to stand up for myself, just as nonsensical as when Adam and Eve hide when they think they’re fat and ugly. Though, I can only say this now because I am looking retrospectively and I already know Finck’s God reaches the end of The Book of Genesis sorry for what she hadn’t done.
In the epilogue, we the people are indistinguishable from God. It is “we” not simply God, who “twists ourselves into our desire to be liked by men.” It is “we” who “hollow ourselves out—erase ourselves—when they don’t respond the way we hope they will.” It is “we” who then “descend into sadness—fly into a rage—blame ourselves. And vow to do better.” The words hang over God as she lounges on her cloud, as she flies into a rage, as she lies down, without her crown on her head. She looks like the many of us who stare at the ceiling wide-eyed revisiting memories while promising to do better. God’s first act: zap Lilith back into the monster of the night; the gift of knowledge is no longer a crime.
Finck delivers an ending that is merely a beginning. There will still be growing pains, but the future for God and presumably for all women once they reach the end of their genesis is to try to embrace the complexities of who they are and share the knowledge they possess, and Finck leads by example.
By creating a story of a female God who disappears into a male alias and reappears as herself through a female cartoonists’ creation, we continue to learn and question what it means to be a woman and what kind of creators we will become. Women are still fighting to have a voice, for equal pay, for rights and opportunity, and we cannot do it alone. A few years ago, Finck, in an interview for The New Yorker, said a lot of men should “do better” in understanding and expressing feelings, similar to the vow made for and by a woman in Let There Be Light. I like to think these aspirations can be married into one collective vow: for us all to do better. God has her wand; Finck has her pen, and in her lines sparks of arty magic fly, zapping.
Zapped—I am suffering from a God complex and I hold Liana Finck responsible, I hope you will too.
Zapped illustration by Orly Zebak.
Header image design illustrated by Orly Zebak.
Orly Zebak writes, designs sets and costumes, and makes art in various mediums. Her work seeks to challenge conceptions of female performativity in relation to womanhood, girlhood, and coming of age stories. In her spare time, you can catch Orly gardening—usually in her very comfortable off-brand crocs.
Orly earned her M.A. at the University of Toronto in Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies.