The Graphic Canon, vol 1, edited by Russ Kick

Here’s one thing I’ve been pouring over for …ah, three months now. Good thing Columbus Library lets me renew ten times. Heh!

The Graphic Canon: from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons, edited by Russ Kick.

This is a collection of Illustrated adaptations of literature spanning the human experience. Gilgamesh–really!– Dante’s Inferno, Beowulf and Apu Ollantay, an Incan play. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Lucretius’ On The Nature of Things, The Book of Esther, The Letters of Heloise and Abelard, The Tale of Genji… It goes on and on and this is just the first half of the first volume.

Russ Kick collected a crap ton of these, and commissioned more, into a three volume set. The first volume which I’ve pilfered from the library was published in 2012, and the third volume just came out.

Editor Russ Kick tells us a little about each selection. Why he chose this piece to feature, where it was published, a brief history of the original novel, poem, legend, play, religious treatise, collection of letters, etc., which he calls the source.

I really like that he includes a paragraph or two on the style of the artist, gives me information about what it is that I’m looking at on the following pages. He explains what is unique about the artist, and how the artist’s adaptation of the source expresses the intent of the source in a modern rhetoric.

For example: “Chicago artist and writer Caroline Picard creates highly inventive comics. Pushing the form forward, she arranges and integrates images and words to create a unique, sinuous flow. Panels as such don’t exist. Everything blends seamlessly, and each page seems like a single work of art even though it contains a sequential narrative.”


The variety of artists is stunning, how each artist reinterprets the classic work for today’s reader. One of the best examples of this is “The Woman with two Coyntes”, a tale from the 1001 Arabian Nights which did not pass the Victorian sanitation guards and is often left out of abridged versions. Here, it has been illustrated by Vicki Nerino.

In this panel, she says, “I’m back! Kay, so like my mom has bequeathed to me something totes weird. Wanna know what it is?”


Heh! Elsewhere, Nerino uses “OMG!” And “WTF?” And “whatevs”. Kick states, “This is perfectly in order, since this is a folktale, which will always be told in the language of the folk.”

One of the most interesting ones is the rendition of Poems by Rumi, by Michael Green. It surprised me a little because Green doesn’t use his own drawings here. He chooses to interpret these mystical poems with, ah, doctored photographs, I guess. One photo for you, but understand that every page of Rumi’s poems interpreted by Green has a different layout, dominant color scheme, format. I especially like this one because he makes the poem part of the bottle:


I’m currently finding the graphic novels where Kick has featured an excerpt for this collection. I’ve found Beowulf by Gareth Hinds. That’s a nice one. Another is Trickster, Native American folktales, edited by Matt Dembicki.

But enough of my yammering. I’m telling you, find yourself a copy of this book. It has rekindled my interest in Classic literature.

P.S.! Just because it’s illustrated doesn’t mean it’s for children! Lysistrata, illustrated by Valerie Schrag


4 thoughts on “The Graphic Canon, vol 1, edited by Russ Kick

  1. Hey no fair, remove your finger! Your library lets you renew 10 times. Wow. These look pretty cool and I admire your dedication.

  2. This looks incredible! classics are so intimidating (at least for me), all my liberal arts friends are always like ‘oooh, what beautiful imagery!’ and i have no idea what they are talking about. it’s easier for me to digest stuff like this if it has visuals. so YEAH i gotta find me a copy of this! Hello library! :D

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