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The Graphic Canon, Vol. 1: From 'The Epic of Gilgamesh' to Shakespeare to 'Dangerous Liaisons'

Russ Kick

Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., June 15, 2012

Summer Fiction

Lit Pics

The Graphic Canon, Vol. 1: From 'The Epic of Gilgamesh' to Shakespeare to 'Dangerous Liaisons'

edited by Russ Kick
Seven Stories Press, 512 pp., $34.95 (paper)

So a man named Russ Kick took his idea to a man named Dan Simon, and suddenly the world of sequential art is even better, even more substantial than it already was. Kick is the editor of the three-volume Graphic Canon series coming from Seven Stories Press, and Simon is the man who runs that publishing concern. The Graphic Canon is an ambitious project that presents "the world's great literature as comics and visuals," and, if the first volume is any indication, the final product will 1) be equal to that ambition and 2) cause any worthwhile library of literature or comics to feel bare without its presence therein.

But how? Says Kick in his introduction: "I needed to gather the best of what had already been done, commission lots of new adaptations, and put it all in one place." This first volume starts with the Epic of Gilgamesh; the final volume, we're told, will end with Infinite Jest.

Right. Before you lose your shit here, note that "longer works will be represented by excerpts or extreme abridgments." Still, look at Vol. 1: Gilgamesh gets a black-and-white indie comix sort of treatment from Kevin and Kent Dixon. Dayton Edmonds and Micah Farritor bring gorgeous full-color pencils to the Native American folktale "Coyote and the Pebbles." Valerie Schrag drafts excellent linework in her adaptation of Aristophanes' Lysistrata. And Gareth Hinds' treatment of Beowulf – don't even get us started on how horrible violence can be so beautifully rendered, or how Molly Kiely's version of Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji, immediately following, does things with just black ink that most people can't do with the entire color spectrum. Oh, there's more: the brilliant Rebecca Dart tackling Milton's Paradise Lost; Seymour Chwast's take on Chaucer ("The Wife of Bath's Prologue"); Michael Green's exquisite posters from the works of Rumi; Robert Crumb illustrating parts of James Boswell's London Journal. And, yes, even more. The diversity and excellence of this volume, which goes to the 1700s, is just about overwhelming. And by the time we've recovered from the awe, around October, the next volume will be out.

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