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Review: Two Odyssey Retellings in Graphic Novel Form

Greek myths are, as many readers know, hot this year, driven in part by the fact that Percy Jackson’s page-bound popularity has transferred to his on-screen adventures. Graphic novel creators have celebrated their love for the gods and goddesses in works such as Michael Townsend’s Amazing Greek Myths of Wonders and Blunders (published by Dial; reviewed by me back in February) and George O’Connor’s The Olympians series (published by First Second). Joining those releases are two new works that retell Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, the account of Odysseus’ disastrous journey home from the Trojan War.

All-Action Classics, No. 3: The Odyssey
Based on Homer’s epic poem

Adapted by Tim Mucci; Pencils by Ben Caldwell & Rick Lacy; Colors by Emanuel Tenderini
Ages: 12-15; Grades 7-10
Sterling, May 2010, ISBN 978-1-4027-3155-6
128 pages, $7.95

The Odyssey
Based on Homer’s epic poem
Adapted by Gareth Hinds
Ages: 15+; Grades 9-adult
Candlewick, October 2010, ISBN 978-0-7636-4266-2
256 pages, $24.99

Both adaptations take Homer’s work seriously, highlighting the capricious nature of the gods, the frustrations of Odysseus and his crew, and the dangers of their voyage. Both works also feature fantastic art, drawings which suck readers into the story and use the comic medium’s unique blend of words and art to the best of their abilities. That said, both works also assume a basic knowledge of who Odysseus is, what the Trojan War was, and who the Greek gods are. Without that the tales are still interesting, but not as easy to follow.

Hinds’ adaptation takes the more direct route, starting where Homer’s poem started and moving straight through without cutting out elements, other than when he substitutes action drawings for words. This can lead to confusion for new readers who might wonder why Odysseus doesn’t show up until about fifty pages into his own story, but, as with the original work, it does allow the elements of the story to come together smoothly in the end with Odysseus’ son Telemachus bookending the tale. Because Hinds chose to make his story as close an adaptation as possible, even down to researching various translations of the work, his graphic novel is a good companion to a classroom or book club study of the original poem, though Hinds does not have his characters speak in poetic form. Candlewick has an online teacher’s guide to assist with classroom use of Hinds’ adaptation.

Mucci’s adaptation is much more abridged, keeping as much of the action as possible and removing some of the longer, more political elements which can slow down the reading. He also chose to slightly modernize some of the speech. This makes his adaptation a better introduction to the work for younger readers or for those who are more reluctant to tackle the full work. Librarians and teachers should note, though, that Mucci has kept some violence, albeit slightly muted, and removed much of the sexuality, whereas Hinds’ keeps both in their full doses.

Interestingly enough, both adaptations make the same artistic choices regarding the gods: they are drawn with colored outlines, rather than black, and are shown always in one color, gold for the gods (except for Poseiden’s green) in Mucci’s adaptation, and a different color for each god in Hinds’. Hinds uses this to best effect when Athena takes a human form. She is drawn as a man, but he is outlined in her trademark blue. A simple, but very visually effective device. Otherwise, the art in the two works could not be different. Hinds chooses a very realistic style, drawn in pencil and painted in watercolors. His scenes have a warm sunniness that fits the Mediterranean setting. Caldwell and Lacy, however, opt for an action cartoon style that highlights the fantastical nature of the story. Tenderini’s colors are as bold as the drawings they illuminate. The one small quibble is with the font choices. The Mucci adaptation’s font is interesting and based on handwriting, but it can occasionally be difficult to read. Hinds’ font is typed, clear and easy to read, but rather dry.

Overall both works are strong adaptations of Homer’s classic work, which could only have been made stronger with the addition of a character list or other explanatory information, though I can see that the inclusion of those items might take away from the fun of reading the work. School and public libraries looking for Greek myths in graphic form would do well to check these out!

This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Candlewick and Sterling.

Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.

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