Review: From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons (The Graphic Canon #1)

graphic canon“THE GRAPHIC CANON” (Seven Stories Press) is a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind trilogy that brings classic literatures of the world together with legendary graphic artists and illustrators.

There are more than 130 illustrators represented and 190 literary works over three volumes–many newly commissioned, some hard to find–reinterpreted here for readers and collectors of all ages.

Volume 1 takes us on a visual tour from the earliest literature through the end of the 1700s. Along the way, we’re treated to eye-popping renditions of the human race’s greatest epics: “Gilgamesh,” “The Iliad,” “The Odyssey” (in watercolors by Gareth Hinds), The “Aeneid,” “Beowulf,” and “The Arabian Nights,” plus later epics “The Divine Comedy” and “The Canterbury Tales” (both by legendary illustrator and graphic designer Seymour Chwast), “Paradise Lost,” and “Le Morte D’Arthur.” Two of ancient Greece’s greatest plays are adapted–the tragedy “Medea” by Euripides and Valerie Schrag’s uninhibited rendering of the very bawdy comedy “Lysistrata” by Aristophanes (the text of which is still censored in many textbooks). Also included is Robert Crumb’s rarely-seen adaptation of James Boswell’s “London Journal,” filled with philosophical debate and lowbrow debauchery.

The first volume of The Graphic Canon is immensely fun to read and very interesting. It enables you to get a taste of famous literature without having to read massive texts in complicated English. I now have a grasp on many plays, novels and poems and understand what they are about and why they are important. I especially appreciated that it did not focus on the Western Canon, but rather chose literature from around the world, providing much cultural insight.

Before each graphic visualization, Russ Kick provides insightful commentary that summarizes each classic as well as providing cultural and social context. I even found myself learning new things and gaining deeper insight into the stories I was already familiar with.

While I can’t say I liked every artist’s style, I feel that overall the artists were able to capture the essence of the stories they visualized. If you just focus on the artwork, The Graphic Canon is a stunning collection of different graphic novel and comic styles. I’m more than ready to read the second volume!

Recommended to fans of graphic novels and of classic literature.


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