Pulp and Dagger

Graphic Novel Review


for Nov. 20, 2006


Graphic Classics Volume One:
Edgar Allan Poe

cover2006 (earlier edition 2004) - available in soft cover

Written and illustrated by various.

144 pages

Published by Eureka Productions

website: Graphic Classics

Cover price: $11.95 USA / $14.50 CDN.

The Graphic Classics is a series of black & white trade paperback anthologies adapting in comics form works by various famous 19th and early 20th Century pulp-flavoured authors. The first volume in the series was a collection of Edgar Allan Poe stories -- a collection that has now been re-released in 2006, with 40 pages of extra material, in a "revised" third edition.

Selecting Poe as the focus for inaugural volume makes a certain sense. After all, as a "name", Poe remains a famous author to this day, and his tales of horror and the macabre helped set a tone for the genre. As well, he was one of the first "great" American authors -- at a time when America was still perceived, and perceived itself, as being culturally inferior to England and to Europe in general.

At the same time, Poe is a problematic author to adapt into comics, because his psychological stories aren't necessarily visual in tone, being more concerned with the inner, rather than the outer, horror. His stories often rely more on exposition and internal monologues rather than "cinematic" scenes and dialogue. And as the Graphic Classics series tends toward being extremely faithful to the material, lifting text from the originals, many of the stories can lean toward being simply illustrated text pieces.

This is especially true of Poe's poems, two of which are included, and which really are just representations of the poems with a few illustrations. As well, the collection includes a complete story -- "Hop-Frog" -- that they don't even bother adapting into comics form, but simply throw in complete and unabridged with a few still illustrations. And, perhaps significantly, it emerges as one of the more memorable stories.

Still, many of Poe's signature pieces are included in this collection -- "The Fall of the House of Usher", "The Cask of Amontillado", "The Masque of the Red Death", the poem The Raven, and more. There are also some less famous, more off beat, darkly humorous tales like "Never Bet the Devil Your Head" and "King Pest" which are interesting precisely because they are less familiar.

But because Poe's stories are so much about the mood and the internalization, when presented in comics form they can seem a bit, well, anti-climactic, story-wise, building to kind of non-endings. I've also had mixed feelings about the artistic choices for some of these volumes. Having a preference for mainstream, realist artists myself, the sometimes more stylized, cartoony creators who contribute to the series aren't necessarily my favourites.

I like the Graphic Classics series in general (I've reviewed earlier volumes here and here and have another on my shelf I'll be getting to) but this re-issue of this early volume in the series is a bit problematic. The creators may still be trying to find the right mix of strict fidelity and free interpretation, and Poe himself may not be the easiest writer to adapt to a visual medium. And the very fact that Poe remains famous, and so would seem like a good marketing bet to launch the Graphic Classics series, also might make a collection like this problematic as, I'm guessing, the original stories probably aren't that hard to find at your local bookstore or library. Whereas some of the other volumes in the series provide valuable exposure to authors (or at least their more obscure stories) who are not as familiar to modern readers.

Reviewed by D.K. Latta

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