Tuesday, August 3, 2010

One Down, Three to Go

I've been working on the last chapter in "Superhero Comics and the Literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance" this week. This chapter, which will become Chapter 3 of 5, and thus be the "central" chapter if the designation means anything, is on Shakespeare and comics. I don't want to do another survey; there's a few of those already and they do great work. But I already did something of a survey for Chapter 4 (on Arthurian comics) and honestly, in these days when anyone can log on to Wikipedia, I don't really see why academics bother with surveys anyway. There are plenty of idle amateur scholars with time on their hands who can assemble long lists of "Shakespeare in Comics" and put that list on the internet for all the world to see. What we need is analysis.

The first thing I had to do, of course, was read everything I could find on Shakespeare and Comics, and my bibliography for that is still visible several entries down. Basically it broke down into three categories:
  1. Surveys of adaptations of Shakespeare's plays in comics, ie Classics Illustrated.
  2. Analyses of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman and the three issues in which Shakespeare appears there.
  3. Everything else.
Of these three categories, #2 was by far the largest, being about twice the size of #1, which was in turn twice the size of #3. There were seven or eight worthwhile essays on Sandman, and the best stuff dealt with Gaiman's use of him as a "me character," some discussion on the source of Shakespeare's talent (personal tragedy and sacrifice vs. hard work and humanism), and some very evocative though harder to use observations on the magical power of poetry and Gaiman's broader discussion of imagination and its dangers.

The surveys told me what adaptations might be worth finding and reading and which I could live without, but I'm not that interested in adaptations, really. At least, not obvious ones. What I really want to see are subtle adaptations, probably better called "re-enactments" as Michael Torregrossa does, but which I also call "silent collaborations" in my Arthurian discussions.

By the way, for those looking for other appearances of Shakespeare in comics, the only ones which have really been written about are:
  • Flaming Carrot's adventure into the past, when we learn that Buddy Hacket wrote Shakespeare's plays.
  • The Cowboy Wally Show, where a version of Hamlet is performed in prison as a star vehicle for Wally.
  • The Badger #46, in which "Larry," a telephone repairman with fond memories of his high school acting days, saves the world from demonic invasion by quoting Shakespeare.
  • Three issues of Justice League Europe in which "Deconstructo" does exactly that to the JLE, with both sides misquoting Shakespeare and just about everyone else.
I got to read that Badger comic and it's great, by the way. Most of Badger kind of left me cold, but I've grown into this story.

Today I finished my discussion of Shakespeare and Comics criticism, which is the first part of four which make up Chapter #3. The remaining three parts will be much more fun. They will focus on:
  • Tempest in the X-Men: Caliban, Ariel, and the mysterious island which is home to the powerful mastermind.
  • Peter David's 5-part "Tempest Fugit" story: more mysterious islands, magical masterminds, and monsters.
  • Alan Moore's Black Dossier: The "lost Shakespeare play" Faerie's Fortune's Founded and Prospero's appearance in the final pages of the book.
In other words, I have all the fun stuff remaining, and all the boring stuff behind. Which is good.

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