Enjoying the Classics in Graphic Novel Format

by Alyssa Yenzer

Enjoying the Classics in Graphic Novel Format

by Marcia Allen, Collections Manager

It’s a wonderful, old epic and one of too few examples of literature written in Old English.   Experts don’t know when it was composed or by whom, but they believe it to have been written around the year 1000.  It’s the tale of a Scandinavian hero who makes a sea journey to the hall of the Danes to fight a marauding monster called Grendel.  “Beowulf,” the name of the both the hero and the poem recording his adventures, is one of our oldest English classics.

Of course, the circumstances and customs are far removed from our own, but an outstanding graphic novel, illustrated and retold by Santiago Garcia and David Rubin, is an excellent depiction of the story which brings the tale to life. Filled with grisly images of battle, “Beowulf” is a thrilling and violent testimony to the nature of the poem.  The cursed hall, the mother’s revenge, and the final struggle are all here in colorful panels.

For another look at a treasured epic, try Homer’s poem, “The Odyssey,” retold and illustrated by Gareth Hinds.  This marvelous adventure follows the trials that Odysseus and his men suffered on the voyage home from the siege of Troy.  It opens with Odysseus’s son bemoaning the greed of his mother’s would-be suitors, who freely feast on the family’s bounty.  From there, we follow the treacherous voyage through perils like the hungry cyclops, whom Odysseus must blind in order to avoid becoming a meal.

What’s remarkable about this illustrated version is the lavish attention to characters and to action-filled scenes.  Many of the panels are truly beautiful, especially the ocean views, while others, like Odysseus’s encounter with his deceased parents, are shadowy representations of ghostly figures.

Hinds has also created a graphic novel adaptation of some of Edgar Allan Poe’s more familiar works.  Entitled “Poe:  Stories and Poems,” the book is a lavishly-illustrated tribute to the eerie literature we all love.  “The Tell-Tale Heart,” for example, has an unsettling depiction of the soon-to-be victim’s eye, and the stealth of the murderer is drawn in dark blue panels.  The final revelation conveys all the horror of the crime hidden beneath the floor.

Hinds’ illustrations of “The Raven” are also compelling.  This time, he uses full-page artwork to accompany lines of the poem.  In fact, his drawing of the raven subtly blends skulls and skeletal hands into the feathers of the bird, and the final page features Poe’s grave with raven atop the stonework.

Ready for another famous tale?  Try “The Complete Don Quixote,” originally by Miguel de Cervantes, but illustrated and adapted by Rob Davis.  We see the famous old gentleman reading books of the lost days of chivalry.  While he desires to write a book about chivalry, he suddenly discovers that he can become an adventurous knight, and off he goes to begin his hilarious adventures.  The dialogue of the book and the constantly changing facial expressions make this graphic novel a standout.

This last graphic novel is not dedicated to a single work of literature: it is a compilation of some 25 famous poems, each illustrated in a different fashion.  Artist Julian Peters created the exquisite “Poems to See By” as his own interpretation of each poem. The lines of “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou, for example, are written on panels that appear to be quilt blocks, so the lines dance across the page.  Peters’ drawings that accompany “Musee des Beaux Arts” by W.H. Auden are incredibly detailed, especially his depiction of Brueghel’s “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” which has the requisite bystanders missing the splash into the ocean.

Each of the books mentioned above is beautifully executed, but they are mere samples of the many talented offerings available for you.  In you have not already done so, please explore the graphic novel selections the library offers.