Let me start off by saying that Alan Grant and Jon Howard’s Tales of the Buddha Before He Got Enlightened is offensive. It will offend you. It doesn’t matter if you are Buddhist, Christian, Hare Krishna, Jewish, Liberal, Conservative, or breathing, there is probably something in there that will offend you if you take your beliefs too strongly. However, if you are willing to step back and take a moment to let things slide off your back and just enjoy the ride, then Tales of the Buddha can be good for a few laughs.
Unfortunately, that is all it is god for. A few laughs. Buddhism is all bout the path of moderation. Not too much of one thing. Not too little either. It has to be a balance. Tales of the Buddha Before He Got Enlightened does not follow this advice. It goes roach-deep in to the pot jokes and pretty much leaves it there.
Tales of the Buddha Before He Got Enlightened plays fast and loose with Buddhism to create a composite “Buddha” who undergoes many fantastic adventures before he achieves enlightenment. Along the way he parties, Bill and Ted style, with some of history, mythology, and religion’s greatest figures. He gets high with the guys, beds the women, and discovers some “truths” along the way which he thinks he will add to his religion once he gets it all figured out. As they say, hijinks ensue.
Tales of the Buddha is about as historically accurate as a package of Cheetos. But, then again, it never claimed to be anything else. It is a stoner comedy with religious caricatures as its stars. What it did claim to be was funny. And that is where I ran in to problems with it.
Tales of the Buddha is a one note book. Regardless of the situation, Buddha meets someone, gets high with that person (or sleeps with them) something bad happens, and Buddha bolts. While this may work in an individual comic strip, seeing the same scenario play out over and over again got stale pretty quick. While it is fun to laugh at various aspects of religion and/or historical figures from time to time, it can get old after a bit. Were Grant and Howard able to mix things up a bit and throw in some other humorous situations (Buddha’s marriage, maybe give him a roommate/traveling companion, Buddha’s diet and exercise regimen) and the book could have been something worth sitting down and reading from cover to cover. Unfortunately, after about the third iteration of the same story, it became very easy to put the book down.
The highlight of the book is Howard’s art. It is light and fun, full of funny caricatures and plenty of visual gags. His Buddha looks like he just stepped out of a Geoff Darrow comic, albeit a humorous one. The various scenarios in which the Buddha finds himself are a visual feast with each panel’s background worthy of closer inspection. Add to that the exuberant colors of Jamie Grant, and the art half of Tales of the Buddha becomes far superior to the scripting.
As stand alone episodes, Tales of the Buddha Before He Got Enlightened is pretty funny. Were they to be serialized in a monthly magazine then they would be a funny addition. (Note: The strips originally appeared in Wasted magazine) However, as a collection read back to back to back, they get stale pretty quick.
Tales of the Buddha is available as a digital download now, with a print collection coming sometime later this year.