The Graphic Canon, Vol. 2: from “Kubla Khan” to the Bronte sisters to The Picture of Dorian Gray

Graphic Canon 2Continuing his epic work of compiling a graphic canon of classic works of literature, editor Rick Kick’s Graphic Canon, volume 2 covers the years 1797 to 1890. As one would expect from such an undertaking, this is a huge work comprised of 512 pages. Kirk again attempts to winnow down the great works of literature to just the essential, truly classic volumes. Volume two covers a wider variety of types of literature than volume one. He has included more poetry and fairy tales, and even throws in Darwin and Neitche, though they are non-fiction, under the argument that they have seeped into our psyches enough to be counted as part of the literary cannon of our culture. There are a wider variety of art styles this time, too. There are more styles that really stretch the definition of graphic novel and works that are less linear and more abstract. He also includes the full text of a number of fairy tales, illustrated with only a single drawing per story on a page that is a solid block of text from edge to edge, with no page margins (which is not a graphic novel at all, in my book).

This volume covers European and American writers with no other continents represented. Since volume one did such a good job of representing, or at least attempting to represent, non-western cultures, I’m not sure why they were left out in this volume. I assume it’s getting harder and harder to pick works that should be considered canon the closer one gets to the present.

The wide variety of artistic styles is, to me, mostly a plus. The whole work is a great way to introduce a new reader to graphic novels and to show what a graphic novel can be – rich, nuanced, clarifying, accessible. Having such a variety of type of art really explores the relationship of form and content and shows the range of interpretations it can take.

It is impossible to examine each work individually in a review of this length. Worth mentioning are Kevin Dixon’s fun art for Charles DickensOliver Twist. His more traditional cartoon style is a playful take on this classic tale. Neil Cohn’s ink drawings, with dark black panels on black paper, perfectly capture the somber theme in John Keats’ poem “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”. Nicole Rager Fuller’s ink and watercolor drawings, with their clearly defined lines and almost photographic quality, is a good match to illustrate a section from Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. And Ambrose Bierce’s short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” gets a beautiful and wordless watercolor treatment by Sandy Jimenez.

While the book is a lot to take in all at once, it’s a good way to get one’s feet wet in the world of the graphic novel format, as well as being good for introducing the plots and themes of important works of western literature.

The Graphic Canon, Vol. 2: from “Kubla Khan” to the Bronte sisters to The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Russ Kick, ed.
Art by Various
ISBN: 978-160980378
Seven Stories Press, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: (OT to adult)

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