Russ Kick’s third volume of the Graphic Canon is a veritable smorgasbord of art. As the series has gone on, the works have gone from lovely condensations of great literature to fantastic art and graphics inspired by the great literature. While Kick’s introductions to each piece have always been interesting, in this work they are vitally important to read. The reader needs the summary of the work and its context and rational for inclusion in the collection to understand the art and what is being illustrated.
While my preference is for the works that are entire summaries of a novel/poem in graphic form – such as “Rain” a short story by W. Somersdet Maugham, adapted by Lance Tooks – there are some beautiful illustrations to be found here. For The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum, artist Graham Rawle made photo dioramas that perfectly fit the surrealism of the book; artist Lisa Brown brilliantly summed up Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence in three panels; the three ink and watercolor panels artist Molly Kiely painted for Black Elk Speaks by Black Elk gives a feeling of the spirit of the book without telling plot; the wordless ink drawings by Liesbeth De Stercke perfectly fit the stark story of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck; and Aiden Koch illustrates The Famished Road by Ben Okri with delicate and ethereal paintings and just a wash of color.
As this series has gone on, Kirk has had more and more works to choose from (there are not too many 5000 BC novels to choose from, but many from 1900 AD). I feel that by only limiting himself to a time period, but not a location, is not served well in this third volume. European works dominate this volume in a way they did not in the first volume. Kirk would have been better served to have Volume Three A and Volume Three B so he could divide the Western world and the non-Western world.
This has been an ambitious project for Kick to undertake. These volumes are a great introduction to some classic literature and also a great introduction to both many new artists but also to the variety of art that falls under the umbrella title of graphic novel.