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Literary Comics

In today’s University Bookman, I interview Julian Peters, who is finishing a comic adaptation of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Peters does amazing work, and I was excited to talk to him about his latest project.

One of the things Peters touches on is the difference between illustration and visual narrative in adaptations:

Why Eliot’s “Prufrock”?

First off, because it is one of my very favourite poems. The language is incredibly beautiful, of course, and lord knows I can relate to Prufrock’s indecisiveness. And it is one of those poems that has always spontaneously created a multitude of vivid images in my mind’s eye. I also think it is just the sort of poem that works best as a poetry comic. First because it lays forth a narrative of sorts, and second because it is not too concrete in its imagery, so that in converting it into visual form there is little risk of being too straightforwardly illustrative.

One of the characteristics of a great comic is that its images add something to the dialogue and tell part of the narrative directly as opposed to merely illustrating them. Poetry might be easier to adapt as a comic because, as Peters notes, there is less risk of duplication due to poetry’s abstraction. The same may be true of certain novels, but non-fiction can be difficult, especially if the text and images are done by two different people.  I reviewed Harvey Pekar’s and Ed Piskor’s graphic history of the Beats a couple of years ago, and it was rather weak in terms of visual story-telling.

The Swiss artist, Cosey (Bernard Cosendai), is, in my view, one of the best visual story-tellers. My wife’s family introduced me to Jonathan (16 volumes) almost twenty years ago. It’s wonderful. I have also enjoyed his A la recherche de Peter Pan (two volumes). These are not comics for children, and, unfortunately, they are only in French, but you don’t need to know a lot to make it through. Much recommended.

about the author

Micah Mattix is the literary editor of The American Conservative and an associate professor of English at Regent University.  His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Pleiades, The Washington Times, and many other publications. His latest book is The Soul Is a Stranger in this World: Essays on Poets and Poetry (Cascade). Follow him on Twitter.

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