Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Graphic Canon 1: From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons

The first book of a proposed trilogy, this volume speaks well of what is to come with a strong initial offering. The works contained and excerpted here range from epic poems to plays, poetic fragments to novels, folktales to religious tomes, short stories to essays. They are illustrated by a who's who of comics creators both new and old, including Robert Crumb, Rick Geary, Gareth Hinds, Roberta Gregory, Valerie Schrag, Fred Van Lente, Ryan Dunlavey, Peter Kuper, and Will Eisner. 75% of the book's contents were also commissioned for this volume, so most of it is unavailable elsewhere. Excerpts from prior publications include great bits from longer adaptations such as Hind's Beowulf, Chwast's The Canterbury Tales and Divine Comedy, and Van Lente and Dunlavey's Action Philosophers series.

Although I cannot say all of the entries are tremendous, I can say that the majority are winning. Of the new adaptations, some of my favorites are:
A word of warning, which is probably not needed for most people familiar with any of these classics: this book contains depictions of nudity, sex, flatulence, violence, suffering, swearing, and philosophy. I would not suggest this book for small children without informed parental approval, though I think the vast majority of the book could easily be shared with most older students.

The Graphic Canon's editor, Russ Kick, is known more as a provocateur than a comics aficionado. He is a writer and editor of multiple books published by The Disinformation Society, including 50 Things You're Not Supposed to Know. He also created and maintained (until 2009) the website The Memory Hole, an archive of politically inconvenient government documents and photographs. He and his site gained notoriety when he published photographs of hundreds of coffins containing US military casualties of the Iraq War. Kick speaks extensively about his work and choices for this imposing graphic anthology in this interview with Joe Nolan.

Most of the reviews I have read about this book have remarked on its impressive range of styles and works. Francisca Goldsmith gave the book a starred review in the School Library Journal, calling this anthology "all diamond, no rough" and "a required purchase for any library." Mallory Gevaert wrote that it "is a whirlwind tour both through the classics and the numerous artistic styles and interpretations available to the modern comic-book writer. Sure, it’s educational; moreover, it’s fun." Wayne Alan Brenner summed up his rave review of the book, "The diversity and excellence of this volume, which goes to the 1700s, is just about overwhelming. And by the time we've recovered from the awe, around October, the next volume will be out."

A wealth of information about the book, including preview images, its stories, reviews, and authors, can be found at the series' blog.

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