Alex's Reviews > The Graphic Canon, Vol. 1: From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons

The Graphic Canon, Vol. 1 by Russ Kick
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Feb 25, 15

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bookshelves: 2012
Read on July 01, 2012

Okay, I've been reading The Graphic Canon, looking for a reason for it to exist. It contains abridgements or excerpts of tons of terrific stories, from Gilgamesh to Les Liaisons Dangereuses, in comic book format. But who cares about abridgements or excerpts? To whom are they useful?

I started, as promised, by comparing Valerie Shrag's adaptation of Aristophanes' best-known and dirtiest play Lysistrata (411 BC) to Douglass Parker's translation. I was...actually sortof into it. It's charming and effective. Certainly summarized: it cuts so many lines out that it can't really be called a translation. It loses, for example, the terrific oath sworn by the Greek women:

I will withhold all rights of access or entrance
From every husband, lover, or casual acquaintance
Who moves in my direction in erection...

until the Peleponnesian War is ended.

But it does get the basic points. And it gets the spirit of the thing probably better than Parker's does. Parker comes across like a teenager, eagerly and clumsily over-trying to match the original's tone; Shrag feels like your friend's hot older sister, breezing through. Parker seems terribly proud of himself when he gets through a dirty part; Shrag is more, y'know, "And then there were boners."

(Don't be taken in, by the way, by Shrag's intro, which pats itself on the back for being the only translation to really show how dirty Aristophanes was. Just because you say "dick" instead of "sex" doesn't mean you're the bawdiest person in the room - even if "dick" is, in fact, a better translation of peous, as Parker (weirdly) acknowledges himself in his own intro. Parker's is plenty dirty, and nobody's ignoring the boners.)

So okay, Shrag's Lysistrata is cool. I like it better than Parker's version. I don't think it's exactly the entire play, but it's the right idea.

The rest of the volume is mixed. Tori McKenna's Medea is wonderfully moody, but it misses all of the subtlety of Euripides' original so it's not really a viable version.

Edmonds and Farritor's "Coyote and the Pebbles" is stunning; I haven't read that Native American folktale in any other version, so maybe that's why I'm so impressed. Anyway, it's great to me.

The Dixons' rendition of the Bull of Heaven bit from Gilgamesh is fun, but who cares? It's a minor episode. One wonders why they picked that instead of the way more interesting and complicated Humbaba episode.

The extremely brief excerpt from Lucretius is cool and all, but...again, what do we gain from two pages of a 200-page book? The selection makes it seem like that shit is like Silent Spring or something, which is terribly misleading.

You can't get a decent sense for most of these works from reading this book. So why does it matter? I'm kinda torn. It's fun for me; I've read most of this stuff, and seeing it another format - a usually good format, if truncated - is good times.

So: it's entertaining but hardly necessary. The main reason you might buy it is if your kid is into comics and you want to stealth-introduce him to literature. But in that case hide it and don't let him see it; that way he'll be sure to read it and be all "ooh, naked people! Aristophanes is great!" Pro tip there.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Christopher i just started reading this last night and I'm getting the same feeling from it, that these little abrudgements aren't worth much unless you've already read the unabridged versions. But I did like the Native American tale about coyote, since it was self-contained.

Christopher *abridgement - you know what I meant (althought I think I may have made up the word "abridgement" too...

Alex Probably, but it's a useful word to make up.

I read a little more of this last night too; I liked the two stories from Arabian Nights, particularly the filthy one. Although the art was sometimes hard to follow. And that one is not in my version of Arabian Nights (Haddawy's translation).

Was completely mystified by the Beowulf bit. Dude chooses to do it entirely dialogue-free, which makes it just a fight scene. It's very nice art, but I would have no particular reason to know it's Beowulf if I hadn't been told. It's a dude fighting a monster. That could be any comic book ever.

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