By Water: The Felix Manz Story

Reviewed by:

Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.



By Water: The Felix Manz Story (Heroes of the Radical Reformation #1)


Written by Jason Landsel with Casey Kurtti and Richard Mommsen, art by Sankha Banerjee


Plough Publishing

Publication Date:

March 21, 2023




144 pages


The Protestant Reformation has reached Zurich, Switzerland, changing everything for scholars like Felix Manz. Angry at church corruption, he admires the new priest, Ulrich Zwingli, who rebels against Catholic authority. When Zwingli takes Manz under his wing and becomes Zurich’s religious leader, a new age seems around the corner. However, Manz doesn’t agree with Zwingli on everything—baptizing infants, for example. Manz starts a new movement with Conrad Grebel and George Blaurock. However, his old friends may not let him live long enough for his movement to flourish.

Plough has released several graphic novels on Christians who rebelled against norms. Renegade looked told the story of Martin Luther. Freiheit! examined the White Rose movement, German college students executed by the Nazis for sedition. By Water continues in this vein, and tells a story most American readers won’t know. Manz became a founding father of Anabaptism, whose offshoots include the Mennonites and the Amish. His story also informs the publisher—Plough is the publishing arm of the Bruderhof, a Christian community influenced by Anabaptist teachings.

By Water gives enough information about Manz’s collaborators and friends-turned-enemies to make this book a good primer on Anabaptism’s early days. It even starts with a map showing sixteenth-century Zurich, and has an appendix explaining the history behind the dramatized events and reprinting some historic documents. All these elements are well-handled, better than many Christian biographies. However, what makes By Water unique is something else.

It’s not unusual to write a graphic novel retelling a Christian martyr’s life. What takes By Water above and beyond is visual and thematic touches underlining the tragedy, and how Manz’s death became part of something greater. As Jason Landsel explains in his introduction, By Water refers to the Anabaptists dying “by water by fire or by sword.” The illustrations include at least one visual reference to the phoenix—a creature reborn from the ashes. As the phoenix is reborn from death, Christian communities find rebirth from death. As Tertullian observed, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The script underlines this point by comparing Manz to Feliz and Regular—Zurich’s patron saints who were martyred and a church rose from where their bodies fell. Hence, Manz’s death by water is tragic, but By Water shows how it became something more.

While Manz’s death is handled in an inspiring way, well-told inspiring stories require contrast. The light shows clearly because of the dark. In this case, the dark is Manz’s relationship with Zwingli. Early on, the script mentions that Manz is a priest’s illegitimate son. When Zwingli is introduced, he’s clearly no celibate priest—he marries not long after Zurich becomes Protestant, and his wife has a child several months later. Manz first dismisses Zwingli as “the priest with a girlfriend,” but soon becomes Zwingli’s protégé… his foster son. Like his biological father, Manz pulls away from this priest. Several scenes show Zwingli with his wife and child as he ruminates about his former pupil. Manz is sired by a priest, treated like a son by another priest, and ultimately executed by the latter. The tragedy could not be more poignant.

Rather than tie Manz’s story up neatly, By Water ends with a flash-forward to other Anabaptists some years after his death. This underlines that martyrdom is not the end—new generations carry on the message. It also prepares readers for the next part in this series—Plough Publishing has confirmed the next book will be called By Fire. Judging from this book, the series should be a great treatment of an under-told story.

A clever, well-researched graphic novel that goes beyond the standard fare.


Rating (1 to 5 stars):

Five stars

Christian impact:

By Water gives a great overview of the religious debates that sparked the Protestant Reformers to split from the Catholic church and those which caused Reformers to split from each other. It also gives a great look at what inspired the Anabaptist creeds (nonviolence, adult baptism). Even readers who don’t follow Anabaptist views will appreciate its insights into the nature of revolution (when revolutionaries find they become authoritarians themselves).


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NOTE: ECLA readers who enjoy this book may want to read these offerings:





By Water: The Felix Manz Story

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