REVIEWS OF GRAPHIC CLASSICS: MARK TWAIN
GRAPHIC WORKS OF TRUE CLASSICS
Mark Twain once commented that "a classic is something that everybody wants to have read, and nobody wants to read." That quote is emblazoned at the top of the Web site for Graphic Classics, which gives readers a visual taste of the works of Bram Stoker, Jack London, H.P. Lovecraft, and now Twain himself.
Originating out of the Macintosh computer in Tom Pomplun's rural Mount Horeb home, Graphic Classics marries the work of famous authors with the visual interpretations of top comic book illustrators, artists and graphic designers. Each issue features several stories illustrated in widely differing styles by different artists a typical issue might have a pen-and-ink comic followed by a lavish piece of illustrated text.
While the title harkens back to the old Classics Illustrated comic books of days gone by, Pomplun aims his books at a more adult audience. They're also a great way to be introduced to a famous author's lesser-known works.
The current volume, available at local book-stores and comic book stores, collects several works of Twain. Sure, there's the famous "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," but there are also visual treatments of the lesser-known "Is He Living or Is He Dead?" and "How The Author Was Sold in Newark."
Each issue costs $10. Visit www.graphicclassics.com for more information.
I love the fact that nobody spent any time in this interpreting The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Clemens (that's his real name, as a tiny bit of my schoolin' in clinging to my brain) had pearls of wisdom and quirky little short stories that have probably never been equaled, and that's what everybody here focused on. The Mysterious Stranger, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, A Dog's Tale, P.T. Barnum and the Cardiff Giant, and A Ghost Story are a few of the stories in this book. I'd only heard of two people in this one (Rick Geary and Mary Fleener), but it's obviously a lot more fun than the Bram Stoker volume. It is worth your time to actually seek out some of his books, but this is perfect to introduce children to his work or just a great collection of his stories. It's still only $9.95 and everything I've seen of this series so far shows me that it's a blast.
MARK TWAIN FORUM
Graphic Classics: Mark Twain is Volume 8 of a series presented in the style of the "graphic novel" published by Eureka Productions. Other authors featured in this series include Edgar Allan Poe, H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London, Ambrose Bierce and Bram Stoker. Fifteen of Twain's works have been adapted and illustrated by twenty-five different artists. These artists work in a black and white style of illustration aimed at a more mature audience than color comic books for younger readers. In fact, some of the visual humor or sight gags employed in this collection may go unrecognized by all but the most veteran comic strip aficionados.
The front cover features a painting in color by George Sellas and revisits the doppelganger premise of Will Vinton's 1985 claymation film "The Adventures of Mark Twain." A healthy old Mark Twain sits in the foreground as a shabby and dissipated-looking apparition of his dwarf conscience enters the room. The cover is an alternate illustration for the "Carnival of Crime in Connecticut" which is the final story in this collection.
There is a great variety of artistic styles from traditional to modern and while some strive for a period flavor, others incorporate some contemporary anachronisms presumably to emphasize the timelessness of Clemens's storytelling. The adaptations are serviceable and in some cases the original text is used and simply illustrated. Clemens himself appears in six of these pastiches and while no images of Clemens are presented in straight portraiture, his appearance seldom corresponds with his age during the year that he wrote a given story.
First up is an excerpt from Twain's 70th Birthday address illustrated with a drawing by Mark Dancey of Clemens as a sort of High Llama sitting in his rocker upon a Himalayan peak.
A thirty-six page adaptation of The Mysterious Stranger by Rick Geary from Albert Bigelow Paine's 1916 version of the story presents the characters looking as though they either stepped off some primitively drawn playing cards or are supposed to represent simplistic chessmen. Geary incorporates some vignettes of violence and damnation from the illustrations of Gustave Dore but they only serve to show how modest the rest of the graphics in this treatment are.
Milton Knight draws "How the Author was Sold at Newark" (1872) with a bold pen and ink line reminiscent of Walt Kelly's "Pogo" and puts Clemens through some extreme Warner Brothers style animation poses as he fruitlessly tries to get a rise out of a man in a lecture audience who, unknown to him, is deaf, dumb and blind.
Kevin Atkinson's rendering of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" (1865) is executed in the tradition of classic comic book art. Compulsive gambler Jim Smiley is depicted as a strapping, broad shouldered type with waxed mustachios.
"The Legend of Sagenfeld" (1882) is abridged by Tom Pomplun and illustrated by Evert Geradts with four nicely designed and playful 1950s deco-style illustrations which take a tale set in old Germany and sets it in an oriental Arabian Nights milieu. A variation in full color of one of these grayscale illustrations is reproduced on the back cover of this book.
"Ode to Stephen Dowling Botts Dec'd" from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) is illustrated with six cartoons by Jackie Smith which evoke the early antics of Mad Magazine and suggests that young Stephen may have been abusing drugs since pills and a syringe are falling down the well with him.
Dan E. Burr utilizes an engraving style to illustrate a two-page history of P. T. Barnum's Cardiff Giant hoax written by Tom Pomplun as a "prelude" to Twain's "A Ghost Story" (1870) in which Anton Emdin evokes the character design of John Kricfalusi's "Ren and Stimpy" (the bloodshot animated characters who premiered on the Nickelodeon TV channel in 1991). The ghost of the Cardiff Giant which inhabits a crumbling plaster replica of itself in a Broadway museum makes a nocturnal visit to the narrator in his apartment across the street.
Lance Tooks gives "A Dog's Tale" (1903) a "Family Theatre" theatrical treatment with graphics representing African American actors using masks and puppets to tell the bitterly sad story of a heroic dog who rescues its master's baby, (whose face is a pasted-in photograph of Shirley Temple), only to have its puppy blinded by a vivisection experiment and then buried in the garden where the mother pines away at the grave. It's impossible to be unaffected by the extreme cruelty and pathos of this tale with which Clemens trounced his readers unmercifully.
Most satisfying in capturing a period flavor is "A Curious Pleasure Excursion" (1874) designed by William L. Brown with quaint woodcut style graphics in a four-page broadside layout including multiple font styles to advertise the attractions on a cosmic voyage aboard Coggia's Comet as a sort of Jules Verne rocket ship.
The text of "The Undertaker's Chat" (1870) is printed under its alternate title "A Reminiscence of the Back Settlements" with a stylized pencil rendering of the garrulous mortician by Lisa K. Weber.
"Is He Living or Is He Dead?" (1893), the story of an artist whose work becomes popular after he fakes his death receives a curiously chiseled and jittery ink line rendering which is unified to some extent when artist Simon Gane filled in between his lines with gray scale values. The original 1898 stage play version of this story Is He Dead? was published by University of California Press in 2003.
"Advice to Little Girls" (1865) is divided into seven epigrams, each illustrated in a variety of styles by seven female artists. Florence Cestac employed a bold editorial cartoon style to punch up the premise of sassing an old person only after you have been sassed. Kirsten Ulve made a highly designed graphic of a little girl making a mouth at her teacher. Shary Flenniken pays homage to the old single panel cartoon showing a little girl who ignores her mother's advice and sells beer instead of lemonade at her curbside stand. Toni Pawlowsky created two pop profiles of girls with their dollies to illustrate the suggestion that the one with the doll stuffed with sawdust should use discretion when attempting to swap it with the girl with the china doll. Mary Fleener channels Pablo Picasso while depicting the multiple agonies of the brother scalded with liquid thrown on him by his sister. Annie Owens pays homage to Margaret Keane's big-eyed children with a drawing of a girl who has swindled her little brother out of his chewing gum. Leslie Reppeteaux drew a rather kinky pen and ink rendering of a girl looking on in puzzled tolerance at her parents' sadomasochistic horsy ride.
"An Encounter with an Interviewer" (1875) is illustrated by Skip Williamson with a single pen and ink cartoon of Mark Twain's white hair turning into an octopus tentacle that encircles his hapless interviewer.
Nicholas Miller renders the full title of "The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut" (1876) in authentic period typefaces and incorporates character styling reminiscent of Jay Ward's Snidely Whiplash and Nell Fenwick. Charlie Chaplin as the little tramp and R. F. Outcault's Yellow Kid ("Hully Gee!") make cameo appearances in this adaptation by Antonella Caputo.
Featuring Twain or his characters in graphic novels or comic books is not a new concept. As early as 1918 illustrator Clare Victor Dwiggins (who signed his work "Dwig") began his syndicated daily comic strip "Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn" by arrangement with "the Estate of Samuel L. Clemens and the Mark Twain Co." and syndicated by the McClure Company. Dwiggins created comic situations based on Tom Sawyer and company's world of playing hooky, fishing, swimming and preoccupation with superstitions. By 1928 Dwig changed the name of the strip to "School Days" but the boys were no longer called Tom and Huck and the contract with the Mark Twain estate ended. During the 1940s Dwig drew The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for the Ledger Syndicate; it was not a straight adaptation of Twain's novel but rather a fantasy series in which Injun Joe appeared frequently as the villain.
Between 1941 and 1971 the Gilberton Company published their twenty-seven-volume monthly comic book series Classic Comics which was renamed Classics Illustrated in 1947. Twain was among the many celebrated authors whose works were adapted in comic book form. Most memorably The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was drawn by Aldo Rubano in 1948 in a robust, unique style with inventive layout. Huckleberry Finn, Pudd'nhead Wilson, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and The Prince and the Pauper were also adapted by Classics Illustrated artists but none equalled Rubano's work. In 1976 Stan Lee's Marvel comic books published a version of Tom Sawyer drawn by E. R. Cruz. In 1990 Michael Ploog made a new adaptation of Tom Sawyer which was published in a revival of Classics Illustrated by the Berkley Publishing Group and First Publishing, Inc.
This latest treatment of Samuel Clemens in the comic book and graphic novel genre is a mixed bag of art in terms of style and quality, Graphic Classics: Mark Twain offers "something for everybody" and depending on your personal aesthetic taste, you will probably find an artist here whose style will please you.
Movie Poop Shoot
As with the various incarnations of CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED, these volumes tend to succeed based on the enduring value of the authors work, though often the CI volumes failed because the novel being adapted was too large to condense without releasing its energy into the ether. Pomplun has a somewhat easier task here in that the authors hes chosen, such as Poe and London, have large bodies of short work from which to choose.
The largest story, Rick Gearys adaptation of The Mysterious Stranger, is also the first and best, a beautifully drawn version of a tale that still manages to delight and provoke in its portrayal of a Satan without malice, and Mankind doing far more ill to each other out of ignorance, cruelty and eagerness to impress others. Nick Millers and Antonella Caputos take on The Carnival of Crime in Connecticut also conveys the power of Twains sharply satirical jabs at morality and hypocrisy, with some self-deprecation deflecting holier-than-thou claims. The art isnt exceptional, but these two cartoonists, and several others in the book, get good mileage out of Twains oversized personality and bushy moustache and eyebrows.
There are some dull moments in the book, such as a couple text stories with illustrations (whats so graphic about that?) and two pieces on the legend of the Cardiff Giant, but the unsatisfying pieces (and the overrated, poorly plotted Jumping Frog of Calaveras County seems to be Twains own fault) are usually followed by something strong, such as the touching A Dogs Tale, illustrated in idiosyncratic but fitting fashion by Lance Tooks, or Simon Ganes thoroughly engaging adaptation of Is He Living Or Is He Dead?. Its not an unqualified success, but at $9.95 its well worth picking up for admirers of Twains enduring, forward-thinking work, or those looking for a lively, wide-ranging introduction to it.
COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE
Eureka Productions has been quietly producing collections of comic adaptations of short stories by famous authors (Edgar Allan Poe, Althur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, H.P. Lovecraft, etc.) for some time and this latest volume features the work of Mark Twain. Perhaps best-known for such works as Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Twain produced hundreds of short pieces throughout his career.
The adaptations by such creators as Rick Geary ("The Mysterious Stranger"), Kevin Atkinson ("The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"), and Skip Williamson ("An Encounter with an Interviewer") are great fun and a good introduction to Twain's material. Some of the other choices are questionable, but still provide a nice blend of material.
One of the stranger aspects of the collection is the cover, which appears to tie to "The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut," but no mention is made of that connection anywhere in the book. Otherwise, it's just a strange piece and a bit offputting to the potential purchaser. This is definitely a collection to give to the Twain fan, but probably not the best choice to give to someone unfamiliar with his work and his turns of phrase.
TONY'S TIPS!, Installment #636
It's not hard to envision Mark Twain as a writer of hilarious and snarky comic books. Okay, he would be nearly 170 years old if he were writing them today, but I bet his comics would be as biting and funny and wonderful as the best of their peers. Fortunately, thanks to Eureka Productions, we can have a taste of what Twain the comic-book writer could have been.
Graphic Classics: Mark Twain ($9.95) is the eighth such book in publisher Tom Pomplun's series of anthologies adapting works of noted authors into comics. Earlier volumes featured tales by Edgar Allan Poe, H.G. Wells, Jack London, and others. Each volume offers 140 pages by cartoonists like Rick Geary, Nestor Redondo, Richard Sala, Skip Williamson, and others. These are handsomely-crafted books presenting terrific stories.
Satanic mischief is the subject of "The Mysterious Stranger," a delightfully dark 36-pager by Geary, and it's only one of several outstanding tales. Kevin Atkinson does considerable justice to "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." Simon Gane does commensurate honor to "Is He Living Or Is He Dead?". Lance Tooks turns "A Dog's Tale" into heartrending theater in comic-book form. I laughed out loud at the adaptations of "A Ghost Story" (by Anton Emdin) and "The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut" (by Antonella Caputo and Nicholas Miller). Oh, heck, there wasn't a story I didn't like in this book.
If you've never read Twain, Graphic Classics: Mark Twain is a fine introduction to that great writer. If you haven't read him in a while, this volume will compel you to rediscover what a treasure he was and remains. It earns the full five Tonys
"Tony's Tips" is copyrighted 2004 Tony Isabella.
A NEW LOOK AT THE CLASSICS
When an older comic reader thinks of the classics, Classics Illustrated from Gilbertson usually come to mind. For the younger reader, they may remember the Marvel Comics versions that came out in the 1990's. Tom Pomplun, publisher and designer of Graphic Classics, has undertaken a new effort to re-introduce the classic authors to a new generation.
Since 2001, Graphic Classics has presented trade paperback quality versions of classics from Bram Stoker, Mark Twain, Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, H.P. Lovecraft, H G Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edgar Allan Poe. Containing text, text and illustration, and illustration only stories, these volumes include artwork by many of the worlds foremost alternative artists. A partial list of illustrators includes Glenn Barr, Hunt Emerson, Gerry Alanguilan, Richard Sala, Jeff Gaither, Lisa K. Weber, Todd Schorr, Rico Schacherl, John W Pierard, Dan ONeill, Shary Flenniken, Dan E Burr, Annie Owens, William L. Brown, Rick Geary, Lance Tooks, Antonella Caputo, Kevin Atkinson, Leslie Murray, J.B. Bonivert, Francesda Ghermandi and Michael Slack.
One of the endearing characteristics of these books is the teaser aspect of the work., opposite to the Classics Illustrated comics of the previous decades. Instead of adapting the entire story of Dracula, only the passage of Dracula is printed, leaving the reader inspired to pick up the novel and read. The same principle follows for The Jewel of Seven Stars&Mac226; and Huckleberry Finn&Mac226; When it comes to the short stories of Twain, Bierce and Stoker, the complete tales are told with various styles of artwork. The art itself is simple, and black and white. The story telling is effective, and serves as a primer to each of the authors as presented.
As a seasoned reader, I have read many of the original tales, and enjoyed each of the adaptations immensely. The artists chosen usually do not take the road more travelled, but rather offer their own interpretation of the tales. Now I want to read the originals.
The most recent release from Graphic Classics is the Mark Twain volume. The contents include 70th Birthday, The Mysterious Stranger, The Legend of Sagenfield, A Dog&Mac226;s Tale, Is He Living or Is He Dead, and An Encounter With the Interviewer&Mac226;. Having recently reviewed the Pirates and the Mouse, it is encouraging to see that Dan ONeill is still practising his craft in this series of books. The tales of Twain come to life and find relevance to the society of today in these heady versions. My personal favourite is The Mysterious Stranger, and I have read it several times already.
Tom Pomplun has done an impressive job of publishing and editing in this series. I look forward to the next installment (Robert Louis Stevenson) of the Graphic Classics, and the chance to dig deep into my book collection for some literary gold.
Growing up, two of my favorite books to read over and over again were Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. It wasn't until I got older that I really started to discover that Twain was also a writer of numerous short stories, linked together by a display of wit and cunning. I remember wishing at the time that someone had marketed his short stories to younger readers. I may be older now, but I'm no less delighted to see that Graphic Classics: Mark Twain seems to be doing just that.
Graphic Classics: Mark Twain takes a handful of Twain's stories and lets different comic creators adapt them into this new medium. Easily the most successful entry here is Rick Geary's version of "The Mysterious Stranger", where an angel named Satan appears in a small town, promising to help a group of children. Geary perfectly catches the mistrust, suspicion, and twists that are the hallmarks of "The Mysterious Stranger". The rhythm of Twain's original story is kept perfectly, with each new incident both being a relief and then a concern to the reader. Geary's art goes a long way towards maintaining this, with Satan's innocent face beaming off the page, helping lower your defenses with its open and simplistic art style.
That's not to say, of course, that you can't put a little more detail into the art of a Twain story. Kevin Atkinson's version of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" has nice, full-figured art that brings to the foreground the larger-than-life aspect of the story. Jim Smiley looks just like I'd always imagined him, and there's a certain warmth to the comic adaptation that brought a big smile to my face.
What's nice about Graphic Classics: Mark Twain is that it's not afraid to adapt things in a slightly different manner than just the normal panels and word balloons. Lance Tooks's adaptation of "A Dog's Tale", for instance, is illustrated as if we're watching a theatre performance, complete with actors and puppets. It's a very clever format, both effectively telling the story and making the finished version as much Tooks's creation as it is Twain's.
With the wide variety of art styles on display, I was pleased that I enjoyed almost all of them, from the realistic drawings of Dan E. Burr to the incredibly stylized creations of Simon Gane (who adapted one of my favorite Twain stories, "Is He Living Or Is He Dead?"). The only one that didn't work for me was Anton Emdin's version of "Ghost Story", where the cartoonish faces are so overwhelmingly large in each panel (and usually crammed into the space with a word balloon or two to boot) that I actually found myself getting a little claustrophobic as I read the story.
By the time I finished reading Graphic Classics: Mark Twain, I'd already resolved to buy a copy for the library where an acquaintance teaches elementary school. This is a fantastic sampling of Twain's short stories, with a little something for everyone. Even better was discovering that this is the eighth volume in the Graphic Classics line; with authors like Edgar Allen Poe, H.G. Wells, Jack London, and Ambrose Bierce also represented, I'd say we're finally getting a worthy successor to the old Classics Illustrated line. More, please.
CAMBRIDGE BOOK REVIEW
The fifteen selections here are inspired. The longest and most ambitious is based on Twain's posthumously published novella The Mysterious Stranger (1916), strikingly adapted by San Diego-based illustrator and National Lampoon alumnus Rick Geary. Hands down the most pessimistic tale that Twain ever penned, it's the story of a visit by Satan's impudent nephew to the seventeenth century Austrian town of Eseldorf (a name which translates in English as Stupidville or, more colorfully, Assville). The supernatural nephew's pranks grow increasingly life-threatening to the local residents. His demeanor, however, is so blandly nonchalant and his philosophical justifications so darkly nihilistic that the narrative seems in the end to deconstruct itself and blot out any glimmer of purpose or meaning to human life. If ever a story could be said to anticipate both Kafka and Borges, this is the one.
Read Twain's story after experiencing Geary's adaptation. It's a safe bet you'll not only find that the artist has captured the sulferous narrative to a tee, but the illustrations will replay themselves in your mind's eye in much the same way a first-rate movie adaptation stays with you when rereading its literary source. Geary's images at times recall the sinister iconography of medieval tarot cards.
The short stories in the volume include the 1865 tale that first brought Twain to literary prominence, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," adapted and illustrated by Kevin Atkinson. This is Twain in his most audience-pleasing role as a folklorist and humorist, minus the brittle irony and social satire that he would later bring to his work. Atkinson, who is a native Texan, perfectly nails the story's frontier tall-tale pedigree with lusty illustrations that seem derived from equal parts Paul Bunyan and John Ford. Not to mention that he draws damn funny frogs. Jump ahead eleven years to "The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut" (1876) and you'll find Twain's genius in full flower. Essentially a metaphysical wrestling match waged between Twain and the troll-like personification of his much-abused conscience, the story pokes sharp fun at every American's inner Calvinist. And it's not all that much of a stretch to recognize in the story a forward-looking conceptualization of the Freudian superego. (It's worth noting, in fact, that Freud was an admirer of Twain's writing.) Wittily adapted and illustrated by a pan-European partnership known as Team Sputnik (writer Antonella Caputo and artist Nick Miller), there's enough slapstick verve on display to remind us that the late great animator Chuck Jones counted Twain as a major influence.
Perhaps wisely, the overly familiar Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) is touched upon in the briefest of whimsical fashion via Emmeline Grangerford and her hilariously awful mortuary doggerel, "Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec'd" (from chapter seventeen in Twain's novel). The six stanzas of woeful rhymed couplets -- about a boy who, in Huck's words, "fell down a well and was drownded" -- are illustrated with thoroughly goofy charm by UK artist Jackie Smith.
Graphic Classics: Mark Twain offers more variety than can be adequately summarized in this review. The overall design is supremely fun and readable. If the volume errors, it errors on the side of diversity and abundance. The wildly original styles of the individual artists can sometimes clash if you're sampling more than one story in a sitting. Best to savor these tasty selections over time in bite-sized readings.
Bob Wake is editor of the Cambridge Book Review.
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
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This book is recommended both to make Twain's stories more palatable for teens who are required to read them as well as to serve as an excellent introduction to his work for young readers and adults. Other Graphic Classics cover Bram Stoker, Ambrose Bierce, the work of H. P. Lovecraft, and more.
The thing that first got my attention about the Graphic Classics line was the impressive diversity of talent. This volume alone (the eighth in the series) contains work by Rick Geary, Milton Knight, Evert Geradts (Dutch underground artist), Anton Emdin (great Australian cartoonist finally starting to show up more in the States), Lance Tooks (Narcissa), William L. Brown ("President Bill"), Simon Gane, Mary Fleener and Skip Williamson, to name just a few.
Of the adaptations there are several that I particularly enjoyed. The first and by far the longest piece at 36 pages is Geary's "The Mysterious Stranger", a blasphemous story about a 16th century village's encounters with a young man who, unbeknownst to them, is the Devil. I find it amusing that Twain's view of religion at the turn of the 20th century fairly matches my own in 2004. Coming in at a close second to "Stranger" is Gane's take on "Is He Living or Is He Dead?", a tale about a group of painters who staged a hoax in order to get rich. Gane's work has been the subject of buzz lately thanks to the recently-published All Flee! (Top Shelf), but the truth is that he's been doing interesting work for years. And, finally, the third is Emdin's "A Ghost Story" about the ghost of the Cardiff Giant, one of many fraudulent oddities made famous by PT Barnum. Emdin's exaggerated cartooniness is just what the doctor ordered.
This review only scratches the surface, of course. In addition to the adaptations, there are also a few text pieces, my favorite of which is Twain's address to an audience on the occasion of his 70th birthday in 1905. Be sure to check out the website for more info and a healthy selection of art samples.
Eureka's Graphic Classics: Mark Twain should be a great read. One of America's best writers and a selection of artists of varying levels of notoriety create the potential for highly inventive work.
A few artists take advantage of the opportunity in the graphic medium. Lance Tooks presents "A Dog's Tale" as a minimalist play, with the art standing in for photos of the production. The props, staging and actors of a family theater highlight a deeper layer of meaning within the text. "A Ghost Story" is a more exact representation of the story, but Anton Emdin's illustrated reenactment has a manic animation that adds character to Twain's often dry narration. Twain's "Advice to Little Girls" turns from stolid, slightly wry statements to single panel comedies in the hands of various artists.
But the majority of Graphic Classics: Mark Twain is just another highlight collection of Twain tales, with fewer stories and more illustrations than most. Twain's prose never disappoints, but many of the chosen illustrators do. When even the notable Gahan Wilson falls back on simple talking head shots, the graphic medium is done a severe disservice, and the stories gain little in the exercise. Some, such as "An Encounter With An Interviewer," receive nothing but a single illustration or varied font treatment.
Twain's prose, by itself, is of course entertaining without embellishment. But it's also widely available as plain text, in collections and single booklets that have few or no illustrations to distract the reader. A graphic novel offers the chance for something more than another literal presentation of the work. Graphic Classics: Mark Twain is a solid, attractive look at Twain's work. It just could have been much more.
RLIBRARY MEDIA CONNECTION
A diverse range of artists and writers provide unique interpretations of Mark Twains shorter works, including The Mysterious Stranger, and The Celebrated Frog of Calaveras County. The last volume in the Graphic Classics anthology series, this title features a combination of comic book style sequential art and heavily illustrated text pieces that provide a fresh twist on Twains comic storytelling. Illustrated in b&w, these stories include straightforward adaptation (The Mysterious Stranger ), illustrated text pieces (A Reminiscence of the Back Settlements ), and tongue-in-cheek narratives such as Advice to Little Girls, illustrated by seven women artists. This graphic novel will entertain long-time fans with clever adaptations of familiar works, while providing second language learners and low-level readers with accessible adaptations of Twains best known stories. Recommended.
REALMS OF FANTASY
All sorts of approaches are allowed and encouraged. A cartoonist may illustrate some story, or a quote from some story, with one drawing, do a whole series of drawings scattered through the text, turn the thing into a spread of several pages, or go all the way and turn it entirely into a graphic comic strip.
The latest one out, Graphic Classics Mark Twain (edited and published by Tom Pomplun, Eureka Productions, Mount Horeb WI, 144 pp., trade paperback, $9.95) features an author begging to be played with by talented cartoonists, namely Mark Twain, and Pomplun sees to it that they take full advantage of their opportunity.
The book starts out with a neat little speech given by Twain on the occasion of his seventieth birthday that celebrates the advantages of geezerdom and dismisses survival advice (including his own) with the very Zenlike adage: "We can't reach old age by another man's road." This is illustrated with a simple but effective drawing by Mark Dancey showing a wry old Twain perched in a rocking chair atop an Alp, then immediately dives into the longest piece in the book which is the masterful Rick Geary's marvelous interpretation of "The Mysterious Stranger" possibly Twain's darkest vision. Then the book lunges off into a hilarious account by Twain of an adventure on the lecture circuit adapted and illustrated with appropriately broad strokes by Milton Knight, moves on from there to Kevin Atkinson's treatment of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," and launches itself into the very funny "The Legend of Sagenfeld," a Twain-ian takeoff I never saw before on an Arabian Nights-style legend marvelously illustrated by Evert Geradts and we are only getting started.
I know from personal experience that Pomplun is a scrupulous editor and, in the best sense, micromanages every thing about each issue of Graphic Classics from discussions on the first vague notion all the way through to the final last technical touches on the production of each book ("magazine" doesn't seem up to describing the final product). I confess I am in awe of his determination and energy and feel it's high time I brought this extraordinary series to your attention in the hopes you'll check out an issue or two of Graphic Classics' treatment of your favorite authors and maybe even get you started on routinely buying them as they come out. They are, each and every one of them, well worth your time.