Friday, August 20, 2010


Kafka is part adaptation, part criticism, and part history of Franz Kafka's life and works. The Jewish Czech author is considered one of the great writers of the 20th century, credited with capturing the state of modern humanity in terms of industrialization, urbanization, and changing societal mores. The greatest sign of his importance is the adjective kafkaesque entering into popular use, a term that this book emphasizes. Among the roughly chronological account of Kafka's life, including his struggles with a domineering and abusive father and his mainly strange relationships with various women, are adaptations of his works. These include famous ones, The Metamorphosis and The Trial, but also shorter works such as The Burrow and his unfinished final work Amerika.

This book was created as part of the Introducing series of graphic novels that covers famous authors, philosophers, scientists, concepts, and fields of study. It was written by David Zane Mairowitz who is famous for his plays, literary criticisms/adaptations, and radio plays. He was also one of the founders of the counter-culture International Times. The art was provided by one of the most celebrated and controversial comics artists, Robert Crumb. Crumb is famous for his underground comix work, creating Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat, the album cover to Big Brother and the Holding Company's Cheap Thrills, and the "Keep on Truckin'" meme. He has been a long commentator on jazz and also on what he sees as the decline of American culture. Of late, he has produced a graphic adaptation of Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

Given the successes of the writer and artist, it's no surprise to find many positive reviews of this book. Brian Heater wrote that "Kafka is a terrific little book, and deserves to be embraced by those Crumb and Kafka fans." Chris Barsanti called it " one of the most exhilarating graphic works of the year." Giving a contrary take, and despite admiring Crumb's illustrations, Christian Perring was underwhelmed by the book.

A short preview is available here from the book's current publisher Fantagraphics Books. Past editions have had different titles, including Introducing Kafka, Kafka for Beginners, and R. Crumb's Kafka.

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