Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE GRAPHIC CANON by Russ Kick

THE GRAPHIC CANON

Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons

By Russ Kick

Pub Date: May 22nd, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-60980-376-6
Publisher: Seven Stories

Classic literature gets desterilized with the help of the modern world’s most daring graphic artists.

In this first of three volumes, editor Kick (100 Things You're Not Supposed to Know, 2008, etc.), better known for rabble-rousing at Disinfo.com, collects an incredible variety of graphic adaptations of oral tales, plays, essays, sonnets and letters. Starting with The Epic of Gilgamesh and ending with Hamlet, this meaty slab is laced with more wit, beauty, social commentary and shock than one might expect from a book tailor-made for college classrooms. The expected suspects are all here in excerpted or abridged form, including The OdysseyBeowulf and The Divine Comedy. But there are unexpected entries, too. Tania Schrag turns in a delightfully explicit depiction of the Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes, while Vicki Nerino delivers a raw take on an explicit yarn usually expunged from The Arabian Nights. Noah Patrick Pfarr turns John Donne’s “The Flea” into an elaborate lesbian tryst. Robert Crumb does his characteristically bizarre take on James Boswell’s London Journal, with high debauchery intact. More unpredictable entries are drawn from Native American folktales, a Japanese play, Chinese poetry and The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Serious treatments are given to King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, not to mention a museum-worthy portrait by Eric Johnson of a minor character from Edmund Spenser’s The Fairie Queen. Some of the artistic heavy hitters in this volume include a selection from Seymour Chwast’s outstanding adaptation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Rick Geary’s take on the Book of Revelation, Peter Kuper’s blistering take on Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” and the legendary Will Eisner’s view of Don Quixote from his 2003 graphic novel The Last Knight. The infamous Molly Crabapple closes the book with rich portraits of The Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont from Dangerous Liaisons.

If artists, as British sculptor Anish Kapoor famously said, make mythologies, then this volume is genuinely a marriage of equals.