Review: Excerpt from Geek Dad’s Serious Comics, Part 6

Most of the comics I’ve listed in my serious comics posts are ones that I would argue qualify as capital-L Literature. Of course, there are plenty of non-comics books that qualify as Literature already—and some of those have been turned into comics. Adapting an existing book for comics can be tricky: fans of the original may already have images of the characters in their minds and could be disappointed in the visuals; others may lament the portions of the book that didn’t make the cut.

Comics adaptations also raise some other questions as well. Is the point of, say, a comic-book adaptation of The Martian Chronicles intended to stand alone, or to inspire somebody to seek out the original? Is a picture really worth a thousand words? Certainly a comic book is usually quicker to read, but depending on how it’s handled, things can get lost in translation. Conversely, some adaptations try to keep more of the original text, making it more of an illustrated book without letting the images do the work. (An example of the latter is this version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which features illustrations by comic book artist Becky Cloonan alongside the unabridged original text.)

From Gareth Hind's adaptation of The Odyssey

From Gareth Hind’s adaptation of The Odyssey

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 May 2012, the second arrived in October 2012, and the third in June this year. There’s also a box set due in October this year. The books themselves are enormous softcovers—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 a lot of flexibility 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.”

Original article by Jonathan H. Liu. For full article, visit http://geekdad.com/2013/07/serious-comics-6/

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