Review: ‘Fantasy Classics’ edited by Tom Pomplun
Fantasy Classics: Graphic Classics Vol. 15
Edited by Tom Pomplun
Eureka Productions, 2008, $11.95
The “[[[Graphic Classics]]]” series most of the time sticks to a single author per volume, but not always – they’ve had [[[Horror Classics]]], [[[Adventure Classics]]], and [[[Gothic Classics]]] already, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more along those lines. (There’s no one chomping at the bit for a full volume of Sax Rohmer or Anne Radcliffe, for example, and it’s also a way to do more Poe or Lovecraft without doing a full-fledged “volume two.”)
[[[Fantasy Classics]]] has two long adaptations – of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and of H.P. Lovecraft’s “[[[The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath]]]” – that each take up about a third of the book, and some shorter pieces that fill up the rest. They’re all fantasy, as advertised, but they’re very different kids of fantasy from each other – many, in fact, consider [[[Frankenstein]]] to be science fiction, indeed the ur-SF novel – and none of them are much like what’s mostly found in the “Fantasy” section of a bookstore. There are no Tolkienesque elves or post-[[[Buffy]]] vampire lover/killers here.
The book leads off with a single-page adaptation of Lord Dunsany’s “After the Fire” by Rachel Masilamani; it’s fine for what it is, but basically a vignette.
Then Rod Lott first provides a prologue (illustrated by Mark A. Nelson) to Frankenstein, and then adapts Shelley’s novel for Skot Olsen’s art. Olsen is a bit too cartoony for the material for my eye – the cover shows him in relatively restrained mode, but one of the major characters has both eyes on the same side of his nose, which is quite unusual for a work of supposed seriousness. Nelson’s art on the prologue is more to my taste, dreamy and evocative in a very Romantic-era way. Lott does a good job of dropping Shelley’s very long-winded speeches into panel form without overwhelming the art – these are people who talk a lot, and talk at great length, with very long words, but Lott makes that clear, and gives the feeling of Shelley’s prose, without turning it into an trackless waste of text.
Next is Lance Tooks’s adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s mildly misogynistic story “[[[Rappacini’s Daughter]]].” (Took’s habit of drawing his female leads as African-American also makes this story seem subtly racist, since all of the other characters are depicted as Caucasian.) Tooks has heavily illustrated the Hawthorne story, and abridged it, but not completely turned it into comics. I’m not as fond of this style, particularly when all of the dialogue is rendered in a hard-to-read italic font. And I hadn’t realized how very pre-modern the attitudes were in this story – the whole idea that beautiful people must necessarily be good because God has favored them, and that rot.
L. Frank Baum’s story “[[[The Glass Dog]]]” is adapted by Antonella L. Caputo for Brad Teare’s woodcut-looking illustrations; this is a somewhat modern (set more or less when it was written, or, at least, not obviously set earlier) tale of a wizard, his neighbor the glassblower, and a rich, beautiful woman. Baum admits that it doesn’t have much of a moral, but it’s a fun little thing, and Teare’s art is very expressive.
Then there’s another single-page piece, Evert Geradt’s adaptation of Clark Ashton Smith’s “[[[The Dream-Bridge]]],” about which I can’t say much; a weird fox-thing is rained on and then crosses the titular bridge.
And then last is the Lovecraft story, adapted by Ben Avery and illustrated by Leong Wan Kok. The story gives Kok great opportunities for grotesquerie, and he tears into all of them marvelously – Zoogs, Gugs, Nightgaunts, and ghouls are all well-designed and creepy. Lovecraft is another very long-winded writer – and Randolph Carter, the hero of this story and Lovecraft’s fictional alter-ego, is just as bad as his creator – so Avery has the same concerns Lott had with Frankenstein, and succeeds about as well. In fact, I’d call “Dream-Quest” the best piece in the book; the art is wonderful and the story, though wordy, flows well through all of Lovecraft’s odd events in the lands of dream.
[[[Fantasy Classics]]] is the most consistently strong of the books in the “[[[Graphic Classics]]]” series that I’ve seen, even with Olsen’s Frankenstein art not being quite what I would have chosen for that story. It could be a good introduction to the work of a number of talented creators – both the original writers and the folks turning their stories into comics – or a way to enjoy some favorite stories in a new way.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
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