REVIEWS OF GRAPHIC CLASSICS: JACK LONDON
MORE THAN GOLD PROSPECTING
There is so much quality reading to be had in the present day that it is very difficult to find the time to familiarize oneself with the classics. I have, at different times in my life, been able to break from the new and read the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe and Shakespeare. That, of course, just barely breaks the ground on the literary treasures that can be explored.
It was with some interest therefore that I took to Graphic Classics: Jack London, a collection of London's short stories in comics form. Featuring a bevy of artists, this trade paperback delivers sixteen of London's works of short fiction. Some are adapted or edited for comics, while others are presented in straight prose, the text highlighted with the occasional illustration.
I must confess my knowledge of Jack London was limited before I read this collection. The extent of my experience was White Fang the movie. I moved through life under the notion London wrote only about the far north, the gold rush in the Klondike. I knew London himself had spent time in the Klondike, prospecting for gold. I envisioned him returning to city life, longing for the freedom only the wilderness can offer, typing his stories onto paper so that he may capture and relive that piece of his past.
I was correct in a small way. London did base a lot of his fiction on his own adventures. These adventures, however, were not limited to the Klondike. His stories, therefore, cross many genres and tackle many subjects.
This trade paperback begins with "A Thousand Deaths", in which a sailor is lost at sea only to find himself rescued by a scientist of much cold-hearted brilliance. The sailor becomes subject to the man's trials in science, being killed and brought back to life in many heinous ways. I was surprised to find a story of such horror bearing the name Jack London. As I mentioned, I had thought the Klondike had been his forte. I was happily surprised, and unhappily affected by the creepy story "A Thousand Deaths".
London spent many years as a seaman. He was an oyster pirate, salmon fisherman, and even traveled to the Japanese coast on a seal hunting expedition. Tales of the sea and its dangerous allure frequent this collection. Some are dark like "A Thousand Deaths" and "The Francis Spaight", while others are whimsical like "The Handsome Cabin Boy". It is the darker tales that I found far more compelling.
Jack London was also familiar with war. In 1904, he was among the first war correspondents covering the Russo Japanese conflict. Several stories in Graphic Classics: Jack London are from a soldier's perspective. These are serious tales that don't detail huge battles. Instead London focuses on a few individuals, illustrating with words the harsh realities of war.
London did, as I suspected, spend time in the Klondike, so there are stories with that particular setting in this collection. Again we get a combination of wit, such as "That Spot" and Jan the Unrepentant", and somber, such as "Just Meat". Each story, whether light or dark, clearly presents the tough climes and times of the gold rush.
Interspersed among these three classes of stories is an assortment of tales without a particular time or place. "Told in the Drooling Ward" is the best of this bunch. A 'feeb' in a mental institution tells the story of when he ran away from the institution with a pair of epileptics and a "drooler" named Albert. It's oddly funny, deeply touching and mildly disturbing.
Jack London was born in 1876 and died when he was only forty in 1916. His life was one of adventure, hardship and personal success. He took liberties with his body and his brain, pressing himself to the limits and continuing to come out in one piece. He was a sailor, prospector, pirate, hobo and war correspondent. He survived it all. It is tragic then that it would be the bottle that would ultimately be his undoing. Before his untimely death, however, Jack London had a slew of stories to tell. These tales were adapted from his life experiences. With such an adventurous, hard lived life, it is no surprise that his short fiction is so telling and vivid. Even adapted or edited for comics, his stories have power.
4 of 5
Copyright 2003 comicreaders.com.
Gr. 5-8. Millions of children grew up reading Classics Illustrated, the comic series that introduced classic adult fiction. That format is revitalized in Graphic Classics, a series focused on the works of various famous writers. This collection, illustrated by some of comics' biggest names, reminds readers that Jack London's fiction consists of more than sled dogs, snow, and ice. "A Thousand Deaths" is an sf / horror story; "Just Meat" will appeal to crime fiction fans; and the humor in "Jan, the Unrepentant" and "The Handsome Cabin Boy" is a refreshing change from what one expects from London's work. Seventeen artists, whose styles vary considerably, take on the tales; some selections appear in traditional comic-style sequential art; others are text-heavy with only a few illustrations. Whatever the reader's preference, this is a highly entertaining collection, though it may have more appeal in the literature classroom than for fans of graphic novels as an art-literary form.
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
IT'S GRAPHIC! IT'S CLASSIC! IT'S GRAPHIC CLASSICS #5!
Regular visitors have seen me extol the virtues of the GRAPHIC CLASSICS series of trade paperbacks, bargain-priced books that present illustrated and comic-format adaptations of classic works of literature. Each volume focuses on a particular author; past editions have featured Poe, Lovecraft, H. G. Wells, and other luminaries in the worlds of horror, mystery and science fiction.
If you think of Jack London as "that guy who writes stories about dogs in the wilderness" (like I did), think again. GRAPHIC CLASSICS #5 bypasses London's better known novels (i.e. WHITE FANG) to focus on his short stories. And while only one or two feature the supernatural, many of them are excellent pieces of crime fiction that hold up powerfully even today. The art by the likes of Peter Kuper, Rick Geary and Spain Rodriguez is nothing to sneeze at either.
Also worthy of note is that all but one of the adaptations in JACK LONDON are 100% original, having never been published anywhere else. Editor/Publisher Tom Pomplun is really hitting his stride with these books, and this worthy series deserves to continue. That's enough reason to try them, but the main reason is that they're damn entertaining! Learn more at graphicclassics.com.
Copyright 2003 by E.C.McMullen Jr.
THE TOMB OF DARK DELIGHTS
Think you know Jack London's fiction? Sled dogs, snowshoes, ice, rugged individualism in the great white north and all that, right? Think again! Jack London produced not only tales of adventure, but of science fiction, horror and humor. You''ll find these lesser-known gems in this collection, magnificently illustrated by Peter Kuper, Matt Howarth, Rick Geary, Hunt Emerson, and more. Just check out the cover! You'll be amazed! "A Thousand Deaths" is full-out sci-fi/horror, and "Jan the Unrepentant" will leave you gasping with laughter. I was completely unaware of the range of depth of this great American author, and I have Graphic Classics to thank for my new enlightenment. Really great stuff illustrated by really great artists. I love it. You'll love it. TombKeeper's highest recommendation.
Creature Feature ©D. Dyszel 2003
The introduction, titled "Eight Factors of Literary Success," is excerpted from a Jack London letter which appeared in Silhouette Magazine in 1917. London encapsulates his boyhood working on a ranch, as well as his adventures as a sailor, gold prospector and so forth, before delving into a literary strategy he derived from Herbert Spencer's Philosophy of Style.
In the offbeat story "A Thousand Deaths" a drowned sailor finds himself revived by a mad scientist on an island. He then becomes a guinea pig for a series of executions and resuscitations. Adapted and stylishly illustrated into comic book form by J.B. Bonivert, this tale includes a rather Greek tragic element in that the sailor secretly recognizes the scientist as his own father!
Peter Kuper provides three excellent pen and ink drawings for the full text of London's gripping short "War" in which a soldier on horseback is torn between his duties and a foolhardy attempt to abscond with some apples.
My favorite artist in this edition has to be Lesley Reppeteaux. Her illustrations for the One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest-like "Told in the Drooling Ward" seem, at first glance, to be little more than glorified stick figures yet convey great emotion in a unique style.
With an impressive collection of artistic talent helping out, this book shows that London was an inventive writer of ironic short tales as well as a novelist. I hope to get my hands on the pending Graphic Classics treatment of Bram Stoker as well.
©2003 Weekly Alibi
VOICE OF YOUTH ADVOCATES
For those who have read only mainstream works by Jack London, such as Call of the Wild, this collection of stories in graphic format will put London in a different light. Subtitled "A Thousand Deaths Plus More Stories of Adventure, Horror and Science Fiction," this collection is truly bizarre. In one tale, a father makes his son a victim of his grotesque experiments whereas another is based on what London claims is a true incident in which sailors decide to kill and eat one of the younger boys aboard their ship. Another inclusion is London's thought-provoking story War. A tale of one-upmanship between two friends reflects the two oft-visited themes of competitiveness and greed in the collection. The last entry is The Call of Jack London, which succinctly explores London's life as a writer, highlighting his struggle with alcohol.
Teachers who are doing a unit on London or on short stories could use this collection as a supplemental work, pointing out some of the more bizarre stories and disreputable characters. London's regime of a thousand words a day as a writer clearly caused him to produce some less-than-polished pieces, although some tales are sure to promote interesting class discussions. London's junior or senior high fans will discover a fascinating collection, whereas the graphic style and rather lurid cover will attract other readers, London fans or not. This interesting collection is a worthy purchase for libraries and classrooms but certainly not essential.
"A Thousand Deaths" and "The Shadow and the Flash" fall distinctly into the SF genre. In "A Thousand Deaths," the narrator is rescued after falling overboard by his father, who no longer recognizes him and is a mad scientist. He has found a way to bring people back from the dead, but needs to work on the formula. To that end, he kills the narrator in various ways and brings him back to life. Eventually, the narrator devises a machine to free himself from his captor. "The Shadow and the Flash" features an O. Henry-type twist at the end. Two rivals compete to discover a formula for invisibility, only to be undone in the end.
Onsmith Jeremi contributes an adaptation of a crime story in "Just Meat." Although the story is predictable, Jeremi's cartoonish-style offers a contrast to the seriousness of the tale. Another crime tale, "The Leopard Man's Story", uses a traveling circus as the setting. Ably illustrated by Rick Geary (Treasury of Victorian Murder), the story is interesting, although the reproduction in the book is of a lesser quality.
There are many examples of London's adventure stories at sea and on land. A humorous dog story, "That Spot," works better as a sequential story than it would as text-only. "Jan, the Unrepentant" and "Moon-Face" both look as if they could be included in Mad Magazine. The madcap drawings complement London's dry wit. "The Handsome Cabin Boy" is another humorous, if predictable, story with a twist, but lovingly adapted and drawn by Trina Robbins and Anne Timmons. The best story in the book is "The Francis Spaight." The tale of a doomed sailing ship is given an eerie treatment by John Pierard.
Other London stories are only partially illustrated, but highlight the range of his writing ability. A short essay by London on writing and a "fictional" biography about London by Mort Castle and Roger Langridge round out the book.