Cartoonist and novelist Rowson revisits Jonathan Swift’s classic caustic exploration of human nature in this visceral, contemporary graphic-novel sequel.
Some 300 years after his ancestor first encountered a series of bizarre cultures strewn across the seas, a new Gulliver begins his own travels. Rowson (The Wasteland, 2012, etc.) situates his adaptation squarely in the present, tracking in from a celestial event, through a sky littered with satellites and contrails, to the silhouette of our hero—who holds a degree in “Socio-Anthropological Epidemiology” and a senior post at the “Secretariat of the World Institute of Forensic Therapy”—wading through surprisingly shallow waters. While this Gulliver is only vaguely aware of his ancestor (our hero was tellingly shanghaied during “a Global Forum on Trepanation and Kinship Autotomy”), he soon regrets not paying more attention to the “fantastickal stories” told to him by his aging father when he wakes in the custody of an exceptionally tiny people who mistake him for his forebear. Eventually retracing his ancestor’s path, from Lilliput to the country of the Houyhnhnms and all stops in between, this Gulliver learns that the original Gulliver’s influence on those he encountered has not always proved to be positive. The new Lilliput presents itself as a nigh-utopian consumer society, though the source of its prosperity is puzzling and its citizenry hide behind ubiquitous smiley-face masks. During a rousing speech about Lilliput’s boundless progress, Rowson undercuts the propaganda with an image of riot police violently suppressing the grinning populace while everyone else goes shopping. Gulliver himself faces extraordinary rendition and deportation during his increasingly desperate and scatological journey. (Excreta is essentially a character in the story.) Rowson gleefully plays with language, particularly in the impenetrable pomposity of Gulliver’s guides and the blatherskites of Brobdignag, which hilariously reveals itself when read aloud. The fastidiously crosshatched ink illustrations—part Ralph Steadman, part Heironymous Bosch—match the soiled material wonderfully, buzzing with decrepitude and madness. One suspects that Swift would approve.
A filthy, fantastic and fitting continuation of a misanthropic classic.