Mitchell Hahn-Branson's Reviews > Masterpiece Comics

Masterpiece Comics by Robert Sikoryak
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May 20, 12

Read in May, 2012

This is a book of short comics depicting stories from classic literature written and drawn in the style of familiar comic strips and comic books, usually with characters from the comics playing the roles of characters from the classics. This is a brilliant idea, but there are two distinct pitfalls Sikoryak has to avoid in order to make it work:

It can't be a wink-wink, nudge-nudge, painfully self-aware exercise in which the characters are constantly saying, "Hoho, we're little cartoon characters putting on Daddy's big literature boots! Aren't we all adorable and intellectual?" That joke gets old fast.

At the other extreme, it can't turn into a Classics Illustrated sort of thing in which the comics characters look like themselves but fully take on the personalities of the classic characters. The novelty value of Batman just rattling off lines from Crime and Punishment would lose its novelty value after about two panels.

But Sikoryak bypasses both of those dangers and instead creates something completely original, something that makes this weird idea live up to its full potential. His hybrid stories remain true to everything that's ridiculous, endearing, and true about the comics, and they illuminate the greatness and profundity (and occasional silliness) of the classics.

For example, take the rendition here of poor Gregor Samsa in Kafka's The Metamorphosis, with his outer insect state reflecting his inner alienation and existential crises. Through Sikoryak's twisted lens, we get a Kafka/Charles Schulz mashup in "Good Ol' Gregor Brown," in which the poor transformed fellow scuttles around in the familiar yellow-and-black shirt. It makes the weirdest kind of sense, doesn't it? Not that Peanuts ever got quite as bleak as Kafka, but it is, at heart, a deeply sad comic about a sincere, put-upon kid who can never get a break. The brilliance of this juxtaposition can be summed up in one line spoken by Lucy as Gregor's sister, Grete: "GREGOR, YOU BLOCKHEAD!"

There are so many other great examples—eleven of them, to be exact—in which material is skillfully matched to other material. Here's Little Nemo as Dorian Gray: "What? The portrait has changed! What a cruel expression! Um! Maybe I should apologize to Sibyl." This is a truly clever book by an artist with the utmost love and respect for works that have lasted and things that were once wrongly thought entirely disposable.
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