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The Graphic Canon, Vol. 1: From the Epic of…

The Graphic Canon, Vol. 1: From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to…

by Russell Kick

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the selections vary in execution. Some will be to one taste, some to another.
  ritaer | Aug 3, 2014 |
This is really cool and I want it.

I haven't had time to read through the whole thing, but I've flipped through and looked at all the pictures. I just think it's a brilliant concept and a great companion to my literary tastes.

It's something that would be lovely to have sitting on my shelf so I could occasionally pick it up and read a story or two. ( )
  CassieLM | Apr 2, 2013 |
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 [b:Douglass Parker's translation.|1560|Four Plays The Clouds / The Birds / Lysistrata / The Frogs|Aristophanes|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1327992767s/1560.jpg|5696] 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. You can't say you've read Lysistrata if Shrag's graphic version is the only one you've got.

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 the intro, which pats itself on the back fr 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. Parker's is plenty dirty, and nobody's ignoring the boners.)

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

The rest of the volume is mixed. Tori McKenna's Medea is wonderfully moody, but it misses all of the subtlety of [b:Euripides' original|8886061|The Complete Euripides, Volume 5 Medea and Other Plays|Euripides|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1288639657s/8886061.jpg|13761999] 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 [b:Gilgamesh|779852|Gilgamesh A New English Version|Stephen Mitchell|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1178286566s/779852.jpg|18338203]vis 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. (Right? "A gentle rain fell onto the mountains. A gentle rain fell onto the mountains." That shit is bomb.)

The extremely brief excerpt from [b:Lucretius|195769|The Way Things Are The De Rerum Natura|Titus Lucretius Carus|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1172596187s/195769.jpg|189338] is cool and all, but...again, what do we gain from two pages of a 200-page book? If that's all you know, you're apt to think that shit is like [b:Silent Spring|27333|Silent Spring|Rachel Carson|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1167880280s/27333.jpg|880193] or something. That's not what it's about.

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 fun.

What I really imagine is this: I imagine a kid of mine, maybe ten years old, rooting through my bookshelves the way I rooted through my mom's when I was that age, looking for weird stuff. Maybe he's looking for something a little naughty, because he's ten. I found [b:Looking for Mr Goodbar|166982|Looking for Mr Goodbar|Judith Rossner|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1242789286s/166982.jpg|161255] that way and read it cover to cover, just because it had sex scenes. I also discovered Jimi Hendrix when I did the same thing to her record collection. Maybe my kid finds this, and he or she is like "Ha! Naked people! Aristophanes is awesome!" And maybe he or she will always remember Lysistrata, and The Inferno or whatever, because of this weird early experience. Or maybe he or she will be scarred for life by Medea. That play is dark.

If you want your kid to grow up literate and pretty weird, maybe buy this book and hide it, to make sure your kid finds and reads it. Otherwise? Eh, I don't know. It's vaguely entertaining. ( )
1 vote AlCracka | Apr 2, 2013 |
A very intriguing anthology of classic literature translated into graphic novel form, by various artists in various styles. Some works are made more accessible by this approach (and a few less so). Some works I had never read were represented in this volume too,like the Mayan creation epic Popol Vuh. I also learned that Mary Wollstonecraft was Mary Shelley's mother. Some stories, like Lysistrata, I probably wouldn't have read in their original form. Others, either too wordy or not wordy enough, left me wanting to read the source material. Many of the adaptations were excerpted or abridged from larger works; probably necessary in an anthology of this size but a bit frustrating sometimes. My favourite adaptations were: On the Nature of Things (Lucretius/Tom Biby), Lysistrata (Aristophanes/Valerie Schrag), The Fisherman and the Genie (Arabian Nights/Andrice Arp), The Divine Comedy(Dante Alighieri/Seymour Chwast), and The Wife of Bath's Tale from the Canterbury Tales (Geoffrey Chaucer/Seymour Chwast). ( )
  questbird | Aug 1, 2012 |
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"The world's great literature as comics and visuals"--Cover.

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