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Is the Third 'Graphic Canon' a Decent End to the Ambitious Project?

Does this collection of illustrated literary classics succeed?
Wayne Alan Brenner, 1:30pm, Mon. Apr. 22, 2013
So fiercely well-read
Verdict: Russ Kick brings it on home – to the home library – with style.

Note: Kick is the curator and editor of this three-volume series of illustrated literary classics, now completed with the release of Volume Three from Seven Stories Press.

I wrote of the first volume of The Graphic Canon here. I gave the second volume a hurried huzzah in this post. And now here we are at the tertiary tome, the terminus of much labor for so many for so long.

Holy shit, people.

Mind you, one of the things driving my anticipation of Volume Three was the knowledge that it (and thus the series) would end with an excerpt from David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. And it does end with that. But I'm not so satisfied with the IJ inclusion here, because, yeah, I know some of the stories in each volume get more of a single-illustration treatment than a flow-of-story rendition; but I was hoping for some sequential visualization of a passage, any passage, from DFW's magnum opus. And although artist Benjamin Birdie does a decent job with some full-page cartoonish illustrations of scenes from the novel, the discrete, static images are what we get instead of any hot bande-dessinée action?

God damn it.

But maybe that's a sticking point only for the more fervid DFW fans in the world?

And, anyway, even counting myself among those fans, I'm shrugging off the disappointment. Because 1) hey, the IJ section is something instead of nothing; and 2) it's a small part of this incredible collection which, itself, is one-third of a monumental paper-based trinity of greatness.

You want to see a canonical epic get proper sequential treatment? There are two homages to James Joyce's Ulysses, with fifteen pages from Robert Berry & Josh Levitas' Ulysses Seen work-in-progress, wonderfully depicting the "Calypso" portion of Joyce's narrative with line-by-line faithfulness, and there is David Lasky's masterful condensation of the entire novel into 36 black-and-white panels.

You want to witness the work of an artist whose creations are equally beautiful, whose smoothly streaming adaptations are just as powerful, in monochrome as they are in full and delicate color? What Bishakh Som of the Hi-Horse collective has done with D. H. Lawrence's poem "The Mowers" and Hilda Doolittle's verses "Sea Iris" will provide that pleasure for several pages.

What about that same monochrome-to-color pairing for two works by Edna St. Vincent Millay? Joy Kolitsky's got that gloriously covered.

And there's Jeremy Eaton's bright and typographically transgressive evocation of Flannery O'Connor's "The Heart of the Park" that –

– ah, hell, this post's already devolving toward laundry-list territory, and your interest, if I've piqued it at all, would be better served by reading a more thorough overview or visiting the Seven Stories Press website for details about which authors' writings were embodied in pen, ink, paint, collage, pixel, and so on by more than 75 artists. Because, once again, here's an important book that requires more (that deserves more) consideration than your reporter's wracked blogging schedule currently allows.

Let me just leave you with an insistence that this third volume of The Graphic Canon is, like the first two, a book that any worthwhile library – of comics or of classic literature – must contain. And that, in addition to the commissioned works and the well-chosen reprints themselves, it's editor Kick's informative, contextualizing introductions for each selection that serve to make the series a thinking person's necessity.

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