The Graphic Canon is a collection of works. In this book comic artists graphically adapt of many famous works of English literature from the 1800s. You heard me. This book is a compilation of Comic artists’ interpretations of the Brontë Sisters, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Pride and Prejudice and many other famous works. The result is AMAZING. Some artists focus on one passage from a text, others summarize an entire work, but they all re-tell a story in wonderful images.
The artists on display here draw from a staggering diversity of backgrounds, including erotic comics, mainstream houses, Disney and self-published blogs. This leads to some interesting combinations of genres: Frederick Douglass rendered in 1960s-style American protest poster art; the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice portrayed as clear-line Grecian figures and Mary Shelley’s “The Mortal Immortal” as a sleek 80s comic.
You might wonder why I’m writing a review of the second part of a series, without ever discussing the first. The answer is simple: I have not read the first volume of The Graphic Canon (though it is very high on my to-read list). I was consciously given the second volume, as it discusses the time period I am most interested in: the 19th century. Fortunately they don’t need to be read in order.
This is an anthology like you’ve never seen one. As an English student I am all too familiar with bricks such as the Norton Anthology of English Literarture, thousands of pages of bible-thin paper resulting in a book that no one reads from cover to cover. And if you do want to read one of its texts, you have no idea where to start.
This book is so much better: it gives a kaleidoscopic view of literature and shows every work at its best. Who doesn’t want to read “Kubla Kahn” when its opium induced world of fancies is portrayed so vividly on the page? The graphic artists also enhance your experience of the original work by highlighting interesting themes in the text. For example, in his adaptation of Pride and Prejudice Terrence Boyle emphasizes the focus on the characters and the distance of the narrator in the text, by showing only an abstract scenery instead of a detailed living room.
The Graphic Canon is not only interesting from a literary point of view. It gives a detailed overview of many styles of drawing or adapting a work into a graphic novel. The artists play with the use of colour, simplicity versus extravagance and positioning on a page. Some artworks adhere to the ‘traditional’ 6 to 8 square-blocks comic form, while others are full page images with or without embedded text.
With graphic adaptations of Frankenstein, Oliver Twist and Wuthering Heights, but also of poems by Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, John Keats and many others, The Graphic Canon volume II covers many of the famous works of the 19th century. The first volume in this series spans from “The Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons”, in other words, from the earliest, ancient literature until the end of the 1700s. The third volume covers “Heart of Darkness to Hemingway to Infinite Jest”, it begins with three great works from 1899 and continues with 77 works from the twentieth century, ending in 1996. This series claims to cover “the world’s greatest and most famous literature”, but I have learned from the second volume that it basically only includes English literature.
Find your favourite texts visualized in beautiful images or discover new works. I recommend this book to anyone who loves beautiful drawings. You can read it as an adaptation of literary classics or as a collection of styles of graphic novels. Have a look, you will love it!
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