Post by Francisca Goldsmith:
A number of adult books of sequential art have treated poetry across the past couple of decades—so small a number that one can count them all pretty much on one hand. An all time favorite of mine for booktalking with teens who are learning English is the folio sized and darkly inked collection of visual puns by David Morice, More Poetry Comics (A Capella, 1994); his version of Longfellow’s “the Tide Rises, the Tide Falls” is a hoot that involves—what else?—laundry detergent.
Recent additions to the scene, however, include a couple of elegant graphic novels in which the poet’s muse is conjoined with the visual artist’s in a manner that avoids puns or cheap tricks of simple repetitive illustration. Drew Weing’s Set to Sea isn’t a volume of poetry but rather a story about a poet, and about his poetry. It’s fiction and in both tone and visual reference harks to the era of tall sailing ships, kidnapped ship laborers, pirates, and presses that turned out pocketbooks of poems for the less adventurous—in both deed and art—to read aloud in society. It’s a small, hardcovered book, just right for tucking into a breast pocket—or reading in bed. Each panel covers a full page, but because of the book’s diminutive size, the eye roams around a fairly close boundary. In addition to belonging in every library where teens visit for homework or browsing, this is one to suggest to family members who ask for tips about buying books for their own teens.
Certainly not for the faint of heart, but equally evocative and elegant—in a very different way—is The New Yorker’s frequent cover illustrator, and former street artist, Eric Drooker’s visual accompaniment to Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s famous Howl. Drooker and Ginsberg were not only acquainted as coworkers on an anthology of Beat verse (Illuminated Poems, 1996), but it was Ginsberg who looked up the younger Drooker when the poet began to notice the visual artist’s work. The text of Howl has received many challenges, some outright censorship, and the praise of both literary and social scholars and informed readers over the past 54 years. It is neither crude nor rude, but Ginsberg spared no gentle reader’s ears by evoking the ugly truths of streetlife, alienated and disenfranchised Americans, members of minority groups ranging from sexual orientation to race to economic security, and other warts of our society as it was for much of the 20th century. Drooker sets the scene for his visual presentations of these words by reminding current readers of how conditions today are both similar and dissimilar. Teachers brave enough to teach this poem—and how can the Beats be omitted from a high school curriculum that includes American literature?—will find that by slowing the reader, students who use this version will actually read the poem more deeply.
Browsing teens will find both these titles accessible and something to pass from friend to friend. Both require the reader to find someone else with whom to share what is essentially an intimate, rather than a solitary art—the art of fine poetry.
Adult/High School–With a text as concise and carefully honed as a good poem, and full page panels rendered in etchinglike black and white, this evocative and accessible story of a poet who goes to sea is set between covers that fit into a single hand. While the plot is purposely stereotyped to a kind of 18th and 19th century adventure standard, replete with pirates, parlour poetry readings, and the passing of a muse from one generation to the next, it is neither trite nor dull. This is an ideal book for browsers, poetry lovers, sea-story fans, teachers in search of a perfect book for students of all abilities, and art students.–Francisca Goldsmith
Adult/High School–Drooker, a frequent New Yorker cover artist and author of several wordless sequential art novels such as Flood! and Bloodsong (both Dark Horse), worked with Ginsberg on a 1996 collection of the Beat poet’s work, Illuminated Poems (Four Walls, Eight Windows). Here, Drooker, who designed the animation for the film version of Howl, places Ginsberg’s text and his own moody and softly muted images together to create something more than just the sum of these rich parts. Howl has received condemnation as well as literary and socio-political accolades since it was first published in 1956, and while Drooker does not exploit any of the textual savagery visually, he fittingly remains true to it. By allowing the poem to expand over so many pages and scenes, readers are appropriately slowed to think about what the poet is saying; Drooker’s art echoes the mid-century scene while pointing to relevant details in our own time.–Francisca Goldsmith