REVIEWS OF
GRAPHIC CLASSICS: O. HENRY

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CAMBRIDGE BOOK REVIEW
Winter 2004-2005
Review by Bob Wake

If it weren't for the prestigious short story award named for him, chances are that the writer O. Henry (a.k.a. William Sydney Porter, 1862-1910) would have less recognition than he enjoys today. Serious literary critics have rarely paid him much heed. Edmund Wilson's 1924 dismissal of O. Henry as a "clever journalist" probably still reflects a consensus of sorts. You won't find the writer mentioned anywhere in Harold Bloom's The Western Canon, for example, although you'll find Saki and Maupaussant, both of whom O. Henry has met favorable comparison with over the years. Is it a peculiarly American form of highbrow snobbery that stigmatizes journalists turned fiction writers? Damon Runyon, John O'Hara, and more recently Tom Wolfe, have all unfairly suffered in one form or another the condescending label of "clever journalist." Like O. Henry, they are unapologetically mainstream authors whose work has emphasized traditional storytelling elements such as plot and character over, say, structural complexity and philosophical musing. Their writing often expresses a canny awareness of gender and class conflict through social satire and irony. Popular culture is the real beneficiary here. Runyon's work was the basis for Guys and Dolls. O'Hara's steamy bestsellers brought notable film roles for Elizabeth Taylor (Butterfield 8) and Paul Newman (From the Terrace). Wolfe's work has given us one very good movie (The Right Stuff) and one very bad movie (The Bonfire of the Vanities). As for O. Henry, those of us who grew up on television in the 1950s and 60s owe him a nostalgic debt of gratitude for having created the Cisco Kid. But anyone wanting incontrovertible proof of O. Henry's enduring pop culture credibility need look no further than Graphic Classics: O. Henry, the latest volume in editor Tom Pomplun's comics anthologies of literary adaptations.

Because his corpus is comprised entirely of brief punchy tales, O. Henry is uniquely suited to Pomplun's format, which in the current instance lets loose some seventeen diverse illustrators and comic book artists, all of whom appear to be having a rollicking good time interpreting the well-chosen material at hand. Worth special mention are Mark A. Nelson's dynamic illustrations for "The Caballero's Way," a Western melodrama featuring the wily and surprisingly cold-blooded Cisco Kid. The story is visualized with explosive Peckinpah-like violence and a gritty realism that takes the narrative to another level altogether.

O. Henry's funniest and most famous tale, "The Ransom of Red Chief," is nearly the equal of Mark Twain in its sardonic depiction of a bratty ten-year-old boy terrorizing a pair of hapless kidnappers ("the kid had the knife we used for slicing bacon, and he was attempting to take Bill's scalp"). The story receives a gloriously cheeky rendering from artist Johnny Ryan. For a slightly more disquieting and even demonic view of the story's central character, check out the cover illustration by Esao Andrews.

The collaborative match-up of highly personalized pictorial styles with each story gives Graphic Classics their charm and variety. It's a successful formula that Pomplun seems to wield with increasing confidence in each successive volume. So thoroughly has he immersed himself in O. Henry's world that Pomplun has taken the daring and ambitious step of penning (with horror writer Mort Castle) a sequel to one of the author's better-known New York tales, "A Madison Square Arabian Night." Titled "The Eye of the Beholder," it imagines an elaborate surprise-laden backstory for secondary characters whose roles were left intriguingly vague in O. Henry's earlier piece. Pomplun and Castle, together with artist Stanley W. Shaw, invent a very clever and credible pastiche cum homage replete with high society con men and a femme fatale.

The collection of course includes an adaptation of "The Gift of the Magi," the sentimental Christmas tale about a hard-luck married couple who individually hock something of great personal value in order to buy presents for each other. The wife sells her long radiant hair, and the husband sells his gold watch. And then ... well, suffice it to say they end up buying supremely ironic gifts for one another under the circumstances. The real surprise here isn't the overly familiar denouement, but rather Lisa K. Weber's beautifully stylized illustrations, which cast the soft glow of a Grimm's fairy tale and truly bring something fresh and magical to the material. Another standout is "The Marionettes," adapted by Antonella Caputo and crisply illustrated by the always brilliant Rick Geary. It's a fast-paced crime story about a well-respected doctor who leads a double-life as a burglar. There's lots more -- much much more than can be covered in a review -- but every page meets the high standard the series has come to signify. Graphic Classics: O. Henry is the best yet.

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THE TOMB OF DARK DELIGHTS
http://www.countgore.com/tomb.htm
Review by J. L. Comeau

The great writer, O. Henry, was renowned for his "stories with a twist", that is, his stories tended to follow a conventional short story trajectory but always ended with a highly unexpected ending. O. Henry was a master of the form and now Tom Pomplun has found the very best illustrators working today to bring this significant yet almost lost storytelling genre into modern form by marrying the best possible illustrators to O. Henry's work. Well-known stories such as "The Gift of the Magi" and "The Ransom of Red Chief" find new life through the artistic talents of Lisa K. Weber and Johnny Ryan, respectively. In addition, there are many wondrous and lesser-known tales of the fantastic included here: "The Furnished Room" illustrated by Gerry Alanguilan, "The Marionettes", illustrated by one of my very favorite artists, Rick Geary, and many more. My favorite this time out is the breathtaking story of the great Mexican bandit, The Cisco Kid, titled "The Caballero's Way", illustrated with sublime muscularity and vigor by Mark A. Nelson. This collection is filled with deliciously escapist fantasies that will fill a gray winter's day with sunshine and unanticipated surprises.

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COLLECTORS’ CORNER
#147, Feb. 2005
Review by Boyce McClain

Volume 11 of Eureka Productions' Graphic Classics delivers the classic literary works of O. Henry in style. Where else can you read the great works of a master, coupled with illustrations by top artists and in comic book form? Look for nearly a dozen tales by O. Henry including the well-known The Ransom of Red Chief and The Gift of the Magi. Such top illustrators as Mark A. Nelson (yes, that Mark A. Nelson), Tom Neely, Johnny Ryan, Lisa K. Weber and others please the eye and offer unique visual takes on the stories of O. Henry. From humor to drama, O. Henry could write it all. Included with the book are An Unfinished Story by the author, An Homage to O. Henry, a comparison between O. Henry and Jack London and interesting facts about the artists and writers who modified the stories to comic book form.

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SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE
February 22, 2005
Review by Andrew A. Smith

I don't know how the Graphic Classics series from Eureka Productions has escaped my radar until now, but I'm certainly glad to have found the 11th volume in the series, "Graphic Classics: O. Henry" ($11.95).

Featuring 13 stories by the king of the twist endings (or stories about him), illustrated by a wide variety of artists in a startlingly wide variety of styles, "GC: O. Henry" is like a more sophisticated version of the fondly remembered "Classics Illustrated," only in black-and-white and with 13 issues mashed together. I was thrilled to see old favorites like artist Rick Geary (illustrating "The Marionettes") and to be introduced to new favorites like Gerry Alanguilan ("The Furnished Room"), not to mention reading the first Cisco Kid story ("The Caballero's Way") and chuckling once again at familiar, beloved tales ("The Gift of the Magi," "The Ransom of Red Chief").

And you can bet I'm going to be searching out the first 10 volumes, featuring such literati as Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle and H.G. Wells.

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SEQUENTIAL TART
www.sequentialtart.com
Feb 2005
Review by Rebecca Salek

Graphic Classics Volume 11: O Henry (Eureka Prod), by a variety of artists, adapts a number of the author's most famous short stories. For instance, the cover story "The Ransom of Red Chief," illustrated by Johnny Ryan; "The Caballero's Way," illustrated by Mark A. Nelson; and the classic "The Gift of the Magi," illustrated by Lisa K. Weber; plus others. Recommended for fans not just of O. Henry, but of good literature in general. And if you like this volume, go back and check out the previous ten.

© Sequential Tart, 1998—2004

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COMIC WORLD NEWS
www.cwn.comicraft.com
March 23, 2005
Review by Michael May

My dad was in town recently and happened to see my copy of Graphic Classics: O. Henry sitting out. His eyes lit up as he saw the cover and exclaimed, “The Ransom of Red Chief!” It was a nice moment, because my first thought when I saw the book was of my dad. He’s always been a big O. Henry fan in general and a fan of that story in particular. I admit that growing up, I didn’t quite get the attraction. I was more into murder and ghosts and spaceships and pirates.

I vaguely remember enjoying as a kid the movie version of “Red Chief” starring Jack Elam and Strother Martin, but other than that, my only O. Henry experience has been the occasional reading of “Gift of the Magi” at Christmastime. I raised an eyebrow when I saw that Graphic Classics was adapting O. Henry stories. Wasn’t this a little mundane for them? I was used to seeing their adaptations of people like Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe, H.G. Wells, and Robert Louis Stevenson – the very writers for whom I’d ignored O. Henry as a kid. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned to trust about Graphic Classics over the few volumes I’ve had the pleasure of reading, it’s that I’m going to be educated and entertained at the same time. No exception with O. Henry.

It wasn’t until I was a couple of stories into the volume that I remembered why my dad likes O. Henry so much. The master of the twist ending, he called him. I’m sure dad’s not the first. O. Henry is M. Night Shyamalan’s literary ancestor and that’s what makes him cool enough for my dad and for Graphic Classics and for me to reconsider my opinion of him. Some of his twists aren’t that difficult for the modern reader to figure out, but that’s only because we’ve seen them imitated so many times since they were originally written. And even when I was able to figure them out, the stories were so much fun to read that knowing the ending didn’t hurt the experience.

One of the coolest stories in the collection is Mark A. Nelson’s beautifully pulpish adaptation of “The Caballero’s Way.” The story introduces The Cisco Kid, but O. Henry’s murderous bastard is a much different character from the tame “Robin Hood of the West” that the character would become in film, comics, and on TV. It got me wanting to go back and re-read Moonstone’s Cisco Kid mini-series, which – even though it followed the better known version of the character – seemed to be trying to get back some of the feel of the original. The Graphic Classics version is the real deal though and it’s dark as hell, and also very cool.

Johnny Ryan’s slapstick version of “The Ransom of Red Chief” is very funny and is a dramatic contrasts to “The Caballero’s Way,” as is Lisa. K. Weber’s whimsical portrayal of “Gift of the Magi.” Weber’s art incorporates elements of Edward Gorey and Tim Burton with a smidgen of Rankin-Bass animation. She's someone who's work I'm going to seek out.

The adaptation of “Roads of Destiny” is cleverly done. It’s the story of a young man who leaves home to seek his fortune as a poet. When he arrives at a fork in the road, the story breaks into chapters, each describing what would happen if the man chose a different path. Each chapter is illustrated by a different artist to highlight the different realities available to the man.

Another story worth mentioning is Mort Castle and Michael Slack’s wonderful adaptation of “A Madison Square Arabian Night,” done in the style of a silent movie, complete with scratches on the film and title cards.

Graphic Classics editor Tom Pomplun likes to use a lot of the same creators from volume to volume of the series and it’s easy to see why. He’s collected a group of artists that’s as talented as it is diverse. As I pick up new volumes, I’m beginning to look for favorites like Nelson, Weber, and Slack at the same time I’m watching out for new illustrators who tickle my fancy.

Graphic Classics has a perfect record for delivering art that’s fun, but also, as a funny man once said, “If you’re not careful, you just may learn something before it’s done.”

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MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW
April 2005
Review by Henry Berry

There's 13 illustrated O. Henry stories altogether, by additional illustrators than the few noted on the cover. The accomplished illustrators bring out in their own distinctive visual styles the diverse dramatic moments and general tones of the stories. The illustrations also accentuate the abbreviated, selected text of each tale. With stories ranging from only a few pages to about 20 at most, the variety of illustration styles can be reviewed and appreciated quickly in this work which fits right in to the current popularity for graphic novels and similar works.

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COMICS BUYER’S GUIDE
June 2005, #1605
Reviewed by Jack Abramowitz

And the hits just keep on coming! This eleventh volume of Graphic Classics collects adaptations of the works of American writer William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), better known as O. Henry.

Present are not only such classics as “The Ransom of Red Chief” and the ubiquitous “The Gift of the Magi,” but also such less-well-known works as “The Furnished Room.”

Of special note is Rod Lott’s adaptation of “Roads of Desfiny,” a parallel path “what if” that predates Run, Lola, Run by almost a century. Each journey is illustrated by a different artist (Pedro Lopez, Rico Schacherl, and Joe Ollman), adding to the feeling of divergent realities.

Unlike most collections in the series, this volume is purely comic-book adaptations; there are no illustrated prose stories. That’s no real loss, since the comic adaptations are the reason we pick up this series.

There is one new addition, an homage in the form of a sequel to O. Henry’s “A Madison Square Arabian Night.”

In short, this is a great introduction to the works of an author worth reading.

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VOYA
Voice of Youth Advocates
June 2005
Review by Lisa Martincik

The many short stories of O. Henry, glimpses of the human condition with notorious twist endings, are no strangers to reinterpretation. In this volume of eleven selections, they serve as great fodder for adaptation to the graphic format. The classics are here — The Gift of the Magi, The Caballero's Way introducing the Cisco Kid — as well as two original works in homage to O. Henry and his work. The book starts strongly with The Ransom ol Red Chief, as two crooks get more than they bargained for trying to ransom a rich man's son. Twenty writers and artists, including Rick Geary, Mark A. Nelson, and Johnny Ryan, contribute to skillfully transforming prose into the black-and-white comics medium in this slim volume, eleventh in the Graphic Classics series.

Bite-sized, curious, and quite popular in their day, O. Henry stories are exercises in ironic storytelling. Happily these adaptations capture and even enhance the allure of O. Henry, partly by making use of dialogue from the originals. The visuals for each tale are uniformly delightful; the stories feel created for this format. The three-part Roads of Destiny makes use of three very different art styles (and artists) and as such can serve an interesting study of graphical impact on storytelling — all three happen to skillfilly grasp the essence of the story while delivering very different visions. O. Henry died in 1910, but his stories — humorous, romantic, and sad — are still relevant and are well served by the contributors of this book.

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AMAZON TOP 100 REVIEWS
June, 2005
Review by Zack Davisson

Tales of Love and High Adventure

Graphic Classics continues is incredible series of illustrated classics with "O Henry," an American short story author and the master of the twist ending. Almost everyone who has gone through the US school system has encountered O Henry at some point or other, most likely in "Gift of the Magi," but the remainder of his catalog is not as generally well-known.

This volume, # 11 in the Graphic Classics series, has some of the most variety of the series. From cowboy adventure yarns to morality tales to straight, melancholy tragedies, O Henry seems to have written a little bit of everything. The majority of the Graphic Classics series have focused on horror, which seems really suited to the format, but it is great to see that adventure has a place as well.

This volume contains:

"An Unfinished Story" — A quick snippet about exactly who qualifies for heaven.

"The Ransom of Red Chief" — A cartoonish take on a Dennis the Menace-style tale of kidnapping a spoiled bully.

"The Caballero's Way" — A brilliant tale of the Cisco Kid, famed bandit and caballero. The illustrations are superb, completely complementing the romantic nature of the yarn. Ah, for the love of Tonia Perez, what would we all not dare? I could happily buy a whole book in this style.

"The Gift of the Magi" — THE classic O Henry tale, illustrated by Graphic Classics's regular Lisa K. Weber. Her pretty art adds the necessary touch on this familiar and beautiful story.

"After 20 Years" — A clever story of friendship, with the art giving the right rough and ready feel. Touching and sad.

"A Strange Story" — A VERY strange story, with cartoonish illustrations. A funny break from the heavy tales preceding.

"The Marionettes" — Rick Geary's Victorian style is great for this story of free will, heroes and villains, and why people do what they do.

"The Furnished Room" — A straight-forward tragedy, full of loneliness and death.

"Roads of Destiny" The struggling peasant/poet David takes three paths through life, but all lead to the same destiny. Three different illustrators lends power to the adaptation.

"The Friendly Call" — An odd tale of loyalty and friendship.

"A Madison Square Arabian Night" — A dilettante's dismay, a photograph of a woman...

"The Eye of the Beholder" — An artist who paints souls rather than appearance, finds that not everyone appreciates having their true nature revealed.

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SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
May 2005
Review by Sarah Couri

O. Henry's stories are neat, contained units that translate effectively to the graphic format. All of the artists take a different approach to telling them. "The Caballero's Way" uses realistic drawings to complement the romantic and ornate dialogue. "The Ransom of Red Chief" deliberately evokes Denis the Menace-style art to tell a story full of slapstick action and humor. "The Gift of the Magi" uses dreamy illustrations to add life to the tale. One story "inspired" by O. Henry, "The Eye of the Beholder," completes his "A Madison Square Arabian Night" tale. "The Marionettes" is a great, suspenseful read with an ending that seems sudden and forced rather than a natural twist; the moody art matches the story perfectly. The differing styles are well chosen and complement the individual stories, though they can make the reading experience feel a little uneven. These are stories that can add to a classroom reading experience, and they could inspire graphic-loving teens to read some classic literature.

© 2005 School Library Journal

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POOPSHEET
www.poopsheetfoundation.com
August 5, 2005
Review by Rick Bradford

Cartoonists adapt O. Henry stories to comics. "The Ransom of Red Chief" (adapted by editor Tom Pomplun) sports some of the best-looking Johnny Ryan art I've seen. It's got a nice 1930s vibe and is rougher around the edges than his usual style. Also included in this volume are Lisa K. Weber, Tom Neely (more of that '30s vibe), Rick Geary, Peter Gullerud, Michael Slack and Stanley Shaw, among others.

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RAMBLES
www.rambles.net
July 9, 2005
Review by C. Nathan Coyle

An interesting reoccurring theme of O. Henry's work is the "twist/surprise" ending. While almost everyone is familiar with the twist ending of "The Gift of the Magi," the majority of the stories (including, but not limited to "The Caballero's Way," "After Twenty Years," "The Marionettes" and "The Furnished Room") presented pull a switcheroo in one form or another. Of course, this is an intentional choice by editor Tom Pomplun et al., especially in the trade dress ("TALES with a TWIST! Stories from the all-time master of the surprise ending"). While the reader expects to be surprised going in to the story, it's a testament to O. Henry's lasting abilities that each story survives on its own merits and avoids becoming formulaic.

Well, another interesting "twist" -- or at least "surprise" -- is how innovative and fresh these stories seem, thanks to creative storytelling by the writers and illustrators adapting O. Henry's short stories for this collected adaptation.

For an example, let's take "Roads of Destiny." The premise is familiar: a traveler comes upon a three-pronged fork in the road. What follows is a story for each potential future. The interesting manner in which this story is told, as only a visual medium such as the graphic novel can do, is further distinguish these potential futures via three different illustrators. Each illustrator is very distinguishable from the others, yet the central character is given distinguishing features for ease of recognition. This masterfully links the separate tales back to the base structure, providing a sense of connectivity.

"A Madison Square Arabian Night" is another interesting adaptation. Mort Castle and Michael Slack portray an odd evening of a man interviewing artists to determine a woman's true character. While the story itself is interesting and unusual, the presentation is even more so. It is presented as a silent picture with accompanying framed text. It adds another layer to the story, establishing the pacing as well as contrasting the shaded pictures from the stark text frames (white letters and border on black background).

Graphic Classics proves that the graphic novel can take existing material and re-present it as if it's new. The versatility of illustrators, mixed with the myriad methods of re-telling the source material, offer an engaging visual exploration of O. Henry's short stories. Graphic Classics: O. Henry should appeal to a broad audience (even those that have already read these stories).

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BOOK DIARY
www.amk.ca/books
8/12/05
Review by A.M. Kuchling

This volume is much better than the H.G. Wells volume of Graphic Classics that I read last month. O. Henry's short stories, with their twist endings and emphasis on dialogue, almost read like they're comic book scripts already, so the adaptations here are truly adaptations, not illustrated text. It's a lot of fun.

"The Ransom of Red Chief", about a kidnapping that doesn't go according to plan, is hilariously drawn in newspaper comic-strip style by Johnny Ryan. T. Neely's two-page version of "A Strange Story" is similarly nostalgic, but shepherds its one punchline until the very last panel. Lisa K. Weber's "The Gift of the Magi" is sweetly flowing and sepia-toned, and is probably my favorite in the book. Rick Geary and Antonella Caputo's "The Marionettes" is a longer story about nobility in a criminal, as is the lighter-themed "The Friendly Call" by Peter Gullerud. "Roads of Destiny", a three-part story about different roads which lead to the same fate, is given a three-part adaptation by three different artists.

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