I have a confession to make - I have never read 'The Iliad' nor have I read 'The Odyssey' in their original form - I suspect that I am not alone. The thought of wading in to two epic poems of over 25,000 words in total does not appeal, however the stories that make up these poems, tales of heroes and Gods, have entered our cultural psyche.
I have another confession, I don't read graphic novels. Why? I think I am afraid that they will not be as rich an experience as immersing myself in a novel. I'm not sure I want the images that form whilst reading to be hijacked by someone elses idea of what the characters and their surroundings look like.
When the opportunity to read the story of The Odyssey as a graphic novel presented itself I jumped at the chance. This all action classic was a different experience to reading a novel, was it a satisfying one? Read on.
After 10 years of war and destruction at Troy King Odysseus wishes to return home to his Queen Penelope who is besieged by prospective suitors eager to steal his wife and the throne of Ithaca. As Penelope spends her days sewing and every night unpicking her stitches to keep her suitors at bay, Odysseus must battle fearsome monsters and jealous Gods in order to make his way home to his Queen. Odysseus is protected by Athena (breaker of Armies) as he honours the Gods but the other Greeks are condemned to make their own fate, unprotected, due to Agamemnon's cursing of the Gods and defilement of the sacred places. It is Odysseus' job to try to get them home safely.
Tim Mucci's adaptation brings Odysseus to life, his intelligence and cleverness coupled with an ability for trickery and slyness lead him and those who follow him into and out of one adventure after another. From the Cyclops to the multi-headed hound Kerberos who guards the gates of Hades Odysseus outwits them all. The dialogue is contemporary and at times playful:
Hermes: Where are you off to now, my unlucky friend?
To Circe's Palace your life to end?
She'll change you in to Ox or Crow...
Odysseus: Wh..Who are You?
Hermes: Me? Oh...You know.
Ben Caldwell, the penciller, from which I take it he drew the cartoons, has produced strong pictures full of movement. Ghost lines can be seen throughout the book, which adds to the sense that the characters in the pictures are moving. Eyes are large, waists small. Men are square jawed, women have heart shaped faces. Where Caldwell excels is the depiction of the monsters, the mighty Cyclops with his one eye, the lotus eaters wasting away and Poseidon intent on revenge. If you want to see the genesis of some of the artwork for the book and other work by Ben Caldwell then head over to Art Cartooning to see more
Whilst Ben Caldwell may have drawn the pictures he did not colour them in! That task falls to colourist Emanuel Tenderini and 'colouring in' is far to simple a way of explaining his contribution. Colour provides depth and perception to the work, colour influences our response to the image and colour prompts us to make judgements about what we are seeing. When Odysseus travels to Hades to seek audience with the blind oracle of Thebes, Tiresias, the images are cold blues, greys and purples as befits a shadowy after world. Cerise is the colour of the devourer Scylla and aqua the sharp toothed Sirens.
This is a great read and one that is easily accessible to those who don't want to wade through thousands of words of ancient poetry. Is it authentic? Not having read the original I can't compare but it does put into context and explain the story of The Odyssey for a new generation.
And how was the experience of reading a graphic novel? The experience is not the same as reading a novel but it is not, as I feared, a lesser experience just a different and equally rewarding one. It is to the pictures you return again and again to assess expressions on faces and replay visual jokes. I will definitely be returning to the world of the graphic novel.
The Odyssey is available now and is the third in the All Action Classics series.
My thanks to GMC Distribution Services for sending me a copy of the book for review.