Wired’s GeekDad blog: “A treasure trove for literary comics fans”

Detail from Voltaire’s Candide, adapted by Ian Ball

Jonathan Liu of Wired‘s GeekDad blog discussed The Graphic Canon in his post on “Comics as Literature, Part 7: Literature as Comics”:

Comics as Literature, Part 7: Literature as Comics

by Jonathan H. Liu

. . .

If you want some really heavy duty literature-based comics, The Graphic Canon is a project you definitely want to check out. Russ Kick started off with the idea of making a comics anthology of Western literature, and had a hard time selling the idea. Eventually Dan Simon of Seven Stories Press took him up on it — and then it grew from a single volume to three 500-page volumes. As they found writers and artists, they expanded the reach to include Eastern literature and works from other cultures. You won’t get a really large chunk of any particular work, but you’ll get a small taste of a lot of different works: the first volume alone includes 55 stories, from an excerpt of the Epic of Gilgamesh to various books of the Bible to Native American tales to the Canterbury Tales. There are stories from China, Babylonia, Greece, Egypt, Peru, Scotland, and more.

The first volume was published in in May, the second is planned for September, and the third in March 2013. (And if you can wait that long, the box set will be coming in the fall of 2013.) The book itself is an enormous softcover — not the sort you could probably read in bed. I do hasten to point out that, although this could be a very useful educational tool, it does of course include a lot of adult content. Aristophanes’ Lysistrata involves women going on a sex strike, and depicts the, uh, unsatisfied men walking about. There’s one of the more risque stories from The Arabian Nights which usually gets omitted, and I don’t even feel comfortable sharing the title on a family site. I would imagine trying to teach literature to middle schoolers with this might result in more titillation than edification — but for more mature readers it’s an amazing collection.

The quality of the writing and artwork can be a little uneven, as with any anthology. Some of the adaptations are weak on their own, but as a whole it’s a treasure trove for literary comics fans, and there are some big names included like Will Eisner and R. Crumb. Some of the stories are pulled from previous publications, but many are new to this collection. Kick gave artists free reign in their approach, medium, and style, but asked that they stay true to the source materials: “no setting it in the future, no creating new adventures for characters, etc.”