Friday, January 30, 2015

Gilgamesh and Beowulf

Just being old doesn't guarantee you a place in the canon. There are plenty of ancient texts -- the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the I Ching, or the Rig Veda, which are unlikely to appear in a list of "great" literature, though they are undoubtedly of great value.

The element missing from ancient texts such as these is narrative -- and without narrative it's hard for us to think of something as literature. The human desire for stories is at least as old as civilization itself, but early writing systems were used, at first, primarily for prayers and sacred texts -- and writing itself was often reserved to a priestly caste; the word hieroglyphics means 'priestly symbols.'

And yet, even when these ancient texts were the only written ones, oral tradition was filled with stories, stories that passed from mouth to ear to mouth through generations, without ever having been written down. Sometimes, at just the point when the oral tradition was fading, some scribe decided to write them down, and it's to these accidents of survival that we owe many of the world's earliest narrative texts, among them the Epic of Gilgamesh and Beowulf.

Gilgamesh is by far the older, dating to around 2000 B.C., which makes Beowulf, composed probably in the period from 500-600 A.D. and written down in the ninth century, quite 'young' by comparison. The idea of its being an 'epic' is a modern one; it might be better described as a cycle of legends; in the ancient clay tablets on which these legends survive, each has its own textual history. Which makes the adaptation in Kick's book, by Kevin and Kent Dixon, and which treats only one portion of the overall cycle, true to its sources (they have, in fact, tackled the entire epic in their own publications, organized by the 'tablets' on which it was recorded). Indeed, Gilgamesh has been adapted many more times, and in more media, than one might at first suspect.

Beowulf, unlike its epic forebear, exists in only one manuscript, which has survived both the nibbling of rats at its edges, and a fire which destroyed or damaged much of the Cotton collection of which it was a part. It encapsulates the warrior culture of the Anglo-Saxons, in which loyalty, bravery, and the generous giving of gold by warlords are the greatest good. Composed in pre-Christian times, it has had a veneer of Christian belief added to its text, but in the end, preserves what we might see as the fatalistic worldview of the Saxons: man's fate is foredoomed, his struggles here in life difficult, and his eventual destination unknown.The adaptation by Gareth Hinds treats only of one -- albeit pivotal -- episode in the tale: Beowulf's combat with the monster Grendel; compare it with a translation of the original here.

Do the Dixons discover something new in Gilgamesh? Does Hinds, with his wordless version, capture the essence of Beowulf's battle? That, dear readers, is up to you: write your comments below.

23 comments:

  1. Corey Carvalho

    Relating to these ancient texts is extremely difficult. The morals of the respective populations represented in these adaptations were much different, and the lifestyles they led are completely foreign to us today. However, the Dixons do a great job building the bridge to connect us to some common themes in Gilgamesh. One major theme that stood out as a similarity between the two worlds is that people, in a very general sense, do not change very much. This is shown clearly in Ishtar's temper tantrum. Most of us have met an Ishtar at some point in our lives. She reminded me of your typical, privileged, bratty person that you encounter on a reality television show. I also have met some people in my life who just cannot taken "no" for an answer, and then run to mommy and daddy to solve their problem for them. This graphic adaptation definitely helped to bridge the gap between these worlds for me, and sparked my interest in reading other adaptations.

    I think Hinds wordless version of the battle with Grendel captures one aspect of the battle very well, and that is Grendel's fear. One thing that stuck out like a sore thumb to me was just how scared Grendel was during his encounter with Beowulf. Here we have this monster tearing people apart effortlessly, and on page 182 of the of The Graphic Canon V1 we see Grendel briefly looking, helplessly, towards the exit. I think it is extremely important to capture the fear of Grendel, as it was clearly mentioned in the original. It also showcases Beowulf's strength, courage, and fearlessness. While I did find the wordless adaptation a little boring, I do think it captured Grendel's fear very well, which to me is the most important aspect of the epic battle.

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  2. I enjoyed both versions of these classic literary works and I believe the artists and Kick translate both very well.
    I enjoyed the length of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh in its entirety is long enough and the translated rendition is pretty lengthy as well. I noticed the Dixons would put small humorous jokes in the art. For one part where it said one man sacrificed his kid, it was referring to the baby goat and not actual children but in that same panel there were to kids sighing in relief. If there was someone who did not know that the word kid meant a young goat, then the image in the readers head would be extremely different from what the original writer intended. In other panels, the artists make small jokes as well and they find ways to make Gilgamesh funny and smart.

    For the rendition of Beowolf, I read the original text first before I looked at the artist rendition.
    After getting the image of the epic battle in my head, I looked at the rendition.
    There's a saying that a picture is worth a thousand words and I am a firm believer in that. Though there was no narration, everything you needed to know from the original text was depicted very well in the rendition. The killing of the men, the hold on his claw, Grendels fear, and the tossing of the arm to hang, it was all their and no narration was needed.
    In the early days of comic books, there would be captions and bubbles during fight scenes to tell the reader what is going on. But the artwork of today has advanced and now there is no need to have those captions or bubbles, the words are in the art.

    I enjoyed reading those renditions very much, i even skimmed through some more pages and was especially intrigued with the depiction of Paradise Lost. It looked odd but if I were to read it I'm sure there would have been explanation

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  3. Culture and history are monumental components in creating a story. Both contexts allow the reader to understand the attitudes, behavior, and language which are reflections on the time. Over time and across different areas, values, ideas, beliefs and ways of life vary and change. Things are viewed differently in different cultures and social acceptance changes. So, understanding this will help the reader understand the story.
    The Dixons’ depiction of “Gilgamesh” created a new way of viewing the story, as a comedy. The artistic style in which the men adapted for an epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia brought the old tale into a modern era. The cartoon adaptation with multiple onomatopoeias made the story more relatable to a reader from this generation. The style of artwork brought forth a more PG-13 view in comparison to using a realistic approach with color. If realistic drawings in color were used, then the excerpt wouldn’t allow for a comedic portrayal.
    In the graphic canon adaption of the Anglo-Saxon epic poem “Beowulf," Hinds captured the battle with Grendel very well. The artist depicted the atmosphere of a battle by using ominous drawings. The structure of the hall was drawn to be historically correct in its layout and decor and the subtle use of constellations in the night sky all reference an earlier time. I also believe the way smaller details (drawn in smaller blocks) like the two opponents making eye contact and the snapping of the weapons helped build upon the major parts of the battle. Even without any writing each picture allowed for the reader to receive a storyline very close to the actual poem.
    Mary Gaide

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  4. Trying to understand these texts is very difficult. It is a new whole new world than what we read today. The morals that we have today are far from similar than those before us. Their lives are so far more complexed than hours and their styles of writing are too. Dixon does a great job of helping us understand these writings.
    In the graphic canon of “Beowulf” the events that occur are captured perfectly. The battles occurring are well portrayed and set a tone to help one relate to the atmosphere and the setting of which the battle occurs.
    Jarrod Terry

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  5. Trying to understand these texts is very difficult. It is a new whole new world than what we read today. The morals that we have today are far from similar than those before us. Their lives are so far more complexed than hours and their styles of writing are too. Dixon does a great job of helping us understand these writings.
    In the graphic canon of “Beowulf” the events that occur are captured perfectly. The battles occurring are well portrayed and set a tone to help one relate to the atmosphere and the setting of which the battle occurs.
    Jarrod Terry

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  6. In all my years of education I was never required to read "Gilgamesh" so upon reading it for the first time, I had very limited background information. I like that before every piece if literature there was a blurb of background information. To answer the question: do the Dixons discover something new in "Gilgamesh", I have limited knowledge on previous versions of Gilgamesh to answer that. However, I can say parts of this story really show a relationship and a continuing pattern in society and humans. Men throughout history are shown as a figure of strength and power. Gilgamesh sure fits that character whether it be because of his royalty, adventures or being the object of lust for women, it all is something we've heard about. One thing that surprised me was that I saw it more of a story about brotherhood; Gilgamesh and Enkidu, rather than sex with Isthar. This is my first time reading a graphic novel and different I must say, but interesting yes.

    As for Hinds rendition of "Beowulf", I think that he really depicted the battles well.
    One thing I think could be different would to add more detail so that the reader can have the whole picture as to what happened, what might of been present during the battle. Just the whole dynamic of that time, place and situation. Of course they had to add muscles to Beowulf and even the monster; they can never give men break. (side note)
    Amanda Interlini

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  7. As talked about in the blog post, ancient stories are typically passed down by word of mouth through generations and generations. However, a lot of ancient texts are now gone, not completely erased from history, but many have not been written down or never were. “The Epic of Gilgamesh” and “Beowulf”, reluctantly, were taken down in ink by a man to be able to be read and heard by many future generations to come. So within saying that I would like to thank Russ Kick for picking these experts for his canon. I fully enjoyed being able to read and look at these texts, both novels show great themes and lessons. Starting with the Dixon's who do a great job displaying not only the humor within “Gilgamesh” but many motifs hinting to later actions and connecting the themes. One motif that stood out to me most was the journeys taken within the novel. For example, we can continuously find Enkidu taking trips to the underworld, Ur, etc. So why does he travel so much? I think its an underlying fear that he is not good fit enough to be King, so by his journeys he is able to expand his thoughts and selfishness ways and become more devoted to his duties, as an honorable, selfless king. For “Beowulf”, I found it a little harder for me to understand exactly what Hinds was trying to say with his images (due to the fact I am more into reading than art). However, after viewing the images I later read the rendition of “Beowulf” and with the pictures in mind, I could clearly connect both painting a wonderful story in my head. Hinds depicts the battle very well, through both the text version and wordless version. The wordless version depicts a greater sense of feat through the images. It almost felt like I was Grendel and I was scared for my life. Like I had stated before I did find the wordless version of “Beowulf” to be slightly hard to understand, it did help me paint a picture in my mind which I sometimes find hard to do with texts. Amazing job Dixon and Hinds!

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  8. I had never read Gilgamesh before now. Personally, I enjoyed the style that "The Epic of Gilgamesh" was written in. The comedic aspect to it made the reading more enjoyable for me to read and the comic book-like pictures accompanying the short narratives made the story easier to understand. Overall, I followed the story and kept up with what was happening. I'm not able to say whether or not the Dixons discovered something new in Gilgamesh since I have only ever read this one adaptation.
    I have previously read "Beowulf" and just read the translation of the combat from the link given. After reading this, I do not believe that Hines captured the whole essence of it. If I had not read the translation first, I don't think I would have been able to entirely understand what was happening in the pictures. Of course I would see that there was some sort of fight happening, with the monsters arm being ripped off, but I would not know who these people fighting are, the reasons for their fight, or any distinct from it. I think it would have been better if there were short narratives going along with the images. Then I would be able to link the people and the scenes with the writing and get the full understanding of the story.

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  9. Even though one of my previous classes in high school was centered on epics for a good portion, I have never read The Epic of Gilgamesh until now. However, when I read it I enjoyed it. The Dixons made it easy to read and convey the humor that goes with the story well. I also liked the illustrations. They helped give me a better mental picture for what the story should look like, and it gave me a better understanding of the text. When asked if the Dixons discovered something new in Gilgamesh my honest answer is I’m unsure. I haven’t read Gilgamesh before now so I cannot tell whether or not the Dixons have discovered something new from their translation.

    In regards to Beowulf, an epic that I have always enjoyed, the Battle with Grendel has been something translated for generations. Beowulf has to defeat some of his inner demons while battling Grendel. Grendel as well, has inner demons himself. Beowulf’s main struggle was always having too much pride. In regards to the question if Hinds captures the true essence without having narrative, I believe he does. The illustrations capture the true feelings of Grendel and the amount of fear he has in this battle. It also shows, in my opinion, how strong, mighty, and powerful Beowulf is.

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  10. In high school I never had the chance to read Gilgamesh, I did however read Beowulf and saw the movie that came out in 2007. I did enjoy reading/looking at both of these texts. I had to go over Gilgamesh a couple times to actually understand what was happening in this epic story. I thought that both stories were very graphic.

    Reading the cartoon of Gilgamesh made it easier to read and understand. I do see an epic friendship in the story though. From what I gathered, Gilgamesh and Enkidu developed a greater friendship after defeating the Bull. I couldn't really pull much more out of the story because I haven't read the original texts and I don't exactly know what the Dixons are try to portray in their version.

    I loved going through the version of Beowulf because I've read it and have seen the movie before, so I somewhat had an idea of what was going on. Surprisingly Hinds version is very close to what I've seen in the movie. I knew exactly what was going on and I think that even if I had never read the story before I would've had an idea of what was going on because of how graphic Hinds pictures are. He depicts the battle perfectly even without words. Personally I think that this version is better than the original text because I'm a visual learner.

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  11. Like many of the others have said, I to have also never read Gilgamesh. But just from this one rendition by Dixon had me instantly captivated. Right from the beginning of the comic, it’s a tale of friendship, love, and bravery. It was interesting to read the sexual desires of Ishtar towards Gilgamesh, and Gilgamesh backfiring with his knowledge of all of her past failed “loves”. I found that to be quite humorous. But in regards to the question of if the Dixons had discovered something different in Gilgamesh, I think that is was maybe that God Anu did not end up killing Enkidu after he threw the chunk of thigh at Ishtar. The beginning of this tale on pg.2 says that the God Anu kills Enkidu, but in the comic, Gilgamesh and Enkidu are both in town together celebrating their defeats. That’s the only difference that I was able to see.
    Reading through the wordless version by Hinds, I think that he really did capture the battle between Grendel and Beowulf. As I was going through and reading his rendition, I kept getting images of his words in my head. I was clearly picturing Grendel entering the hall, filled with fiery aggression and vulture. I could see his aggression quickly turn into fear once in contact with Beowulf. It was great to be able to picture these scenes so clearly in my head when I was reading it. I really think that’s what its all about. The author needs to capture the audience in order to be successful. I think both Dixon and Hinds did just that.

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  12. I too have never read Gilgamesh so I was unfamiliar with this story. The background information that was provided before the rendition was helpful which familiarized me with the story. This rendition by the Dixon's did add something a little different to the story. I noticed that within the graphics of this comic were some humorous notes, which made reading this rendition even more enjoyable. This rendition did depict the friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu very well.
    As I read through Hind's rendition of Beowulf, I was intrigued by the art and how the story was told without any use of words or narration. It was still interesting and the essence of the battle was definitely captured. Throughout the battle, you could see Grendel's fear as he stared helplessly toward the exit and Beowulf's strength and courage as the battle went on. I feel as though the essence of the battle in Hind's rendition of Beowulf was captured and portrayed very well.

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  13. Throughout my years of education, I have never once been required to read The Epic of Gilgamesh. Before this class I had never even heard of this story. It was very helpful to read the provided information that is given before the story. It gave me some background information about Gilgamesh that helped me to understand the story better. After reading the background information and learning what the overall plot was, I really enjoyed reading Gilgamesh. It was my first story in this canon, and I was very happy with the comics. It helped me to picture what was going on. I thought it was very interesting that the goddess Ishtar had many sexual desires and how her father helped her in the attempt to hurt Gilgamesh. In many old texts the gods and goddesses are portrayed as holy and kind. As for the question of whether Kevin and Kent Dixon discovered anything new in their rendition, it is hard to say. I had nothing to compare this story to since I have never read it before.

    Unlike Gilgamesh, I have read Beowulf a few times before. I have only ever concentrated on the battle of Grendel in my previous classes so I knew this rendition pretty well. I enjoyed Hinds’ artwork portraying this battle between Beowulf and Grendel, and I liked being able to compare what I pictured the battle as with what Hinds pictured it as. I did find it a little confusing at times. I had a hard time following along without being able to read what was going on. I liked having the link of the text up while looking at the comic. I think Hinds did capture the essence of the fight, but I would have liked it better if the text was there also. On the other hand, while having the text up, I thought Hinds’ pictures of the battle were right on point and captured every moment.

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  14. Both of these classic tales I had read before in high school and found the Russ Kick version of them a lot more fun. The stories themselves are not boring, however many people find them boring because they are long stories. For Gilgamesh I enjoyed the how they portrayed the goddess Ishtar and what would happen if she did not get her way. Even though Beowulf was only pictures it demonstrated the fight between him and Grendel which in my opinion looked better than the movie. Without knowing the story one would have figured out what happened just from seeing the pictures.

    Bryant Ayala

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  15. Julia Paone

    The Dixon's version of The Epic of Gilgamesh adds a comedic element to the one of the earliest works in history. The creative and entertaining photos spiked interest even further into the story. I was able to understand and relate real life lessons to the story. After reading the battle between Grendel and Beowulf, and having also seen the movie. I feel Hinds really captures the darkness of this epic battle. He is able to tap into your imagination and make the story come to life.

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  16. Hinds reinforces the brilliance of the battle in Beowulf. With out words allows the reader some flexibility to interpret the classic in a new way. Traditionally literature would have words with no pictures, and readers would have to use their imagination. But pictures with no texts allows readers to reimagine the story in a different and untraditional way. There is no wrong way to interpret this text. The main focal points are expressed in the battle of Beowulf.
    As well, the Dixon's do a satisfactory job of presenting Gilgamesh. There is comedy while getting the story line accurate. I have come across several "Ishtar"s in life who come across as bratty when they don't get their way.
    Elisabeth Holloway

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  17. I remember having to read the full Beowulf text for english class in high school and I remember it hard to understand. I'm not much of a reader but I know I wasn't the only one who thought so. Hinds brought the same detail and scene to life then the original text only without words. I found it easier to understand than the original epic poem.
    This was the first time I've hard of Gilgamesh. I liked how Dixon added some comedy to his rendition. I found it very enjoyable to read while still getting the story across.

    Bryan Round

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  18. While reading "The Epic of Gilgamesh", I couldn't help but think that this graphic was aimed towards a younger audience. Primarily because of the comic layout as well as the "splish splash" like wording. The Dixons did a decent job, in my opinion, in capturing this literary work. I liked the comedic twist, as it almost felt like I was tuning into a soap opera at certain points. The animation is also very comical, and age friendly. Although when one thinks of the era of Gilgamesh, it is easy to say that we no longer live that particular lifestyle of barbaric, gory violence. However, there are many similarities when referring to the characters such as Ishtar. I agree with the other commenters in that there is always that one particular "Ishtar" that you come across and wish you never did.

    As for "Beowulf", Hinds solely focuses in on Grendel and his very obvious fear. The graphics truly capture the essence of the battle when Beowulf ultimately brings out the timidness. Personally, I found this specific rendition to be a bit boring only because I have never truly been a fan of gory battle scenes. However, Hinds very much so captures the strength of Beowulf by enhancing each and every muscle with shading etc.

    Marissa DeRoy

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  19. The Dixons capture The Epic of Gilgamesh in black and white ink imagery with new comical graphics. Being one of the oldest stories in literature, dating back to 2000 B.C. it’s a complex text for many to decode and understand the richness. The morals and expectations within today’s society are tremendously different compared to the “black and white” society of Gilgamesh. Dixons may have realized that modern-humor aids in the storytelling of the heroic Gilamesh.

    Hinds and his wordless version captures the essence of Beowulf’s dark battle. The illustrations in the graphic canon is dark themed throughout the story. This suggests the seriousness of the battle between the two opposing forces. Also the setting was closed-in both inside and surrounded by troops witnessing the battle. I believe the battle was very well portrayed.

    Nathan Silva

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  20. When explaining his goals for his rendition of The Epic of Gilgamesh, Kent Dixon said, “I wanted a translation that would appeal to college students and general readers.” I believe Kent’s translation accompanied by his son Kevin’s artwork accomplished just that. This rendition is particularly easy to follow because the scenes are broken up into easily digestible pieces. This not only makes the story easier to comprehend, but also makes it more enjoyable. Kent Dixon’s artwork along with his use of onomatopoeia within the artwork adds humor to “Gilgamesh” that I don’t believe is as clearly present in the original or in other renditions of the story. I believe the Dixon’s ability to convey the humor within “Gilgamesh”, along with their ability to make the story more appealing to a younger audience shows that they have discovered something new in “Gilgamesh”.
    In my opinion, Hinds’ wordless version of “Beowulf” captures a general overview of Beowulf’s battle with Grendel. Even though Hinds’ depicts the gory detail with which Beowulf defeats Grendel, I believe that his wordless version fails to capture the fear of Grendel when he realizes he is no match for Beowulf. Raffel’s translation of the original text captures Grendel’s fear very clearly when it says of Grendel, “To hell he would go, swept groaning and helpless.” Despite his usual aptitude for killing any man, Grendel is no match for Beowulf and he is described as being helpless. I believe Hinds wordless version fails to capture feelings like this and is something that can really only be accomplished through text.

    Alex Collins

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  21. Like a few others, I have never read " The Epic of Gilgamesh". The text was very different to read, I had a hard time understanding it but after awhile and looking at the pictures I was able to figure it out. Without these drawings I honestly don't think I would be able to figure out the text correctly.

    This is a whole new type of reading for me, but I like it way better than the original with just the text. When you read this, you can really tell that it is meant for a young audience.

    Brandon Men

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  22. Robert Conway

    What we see from Dixon's graphic rendition of Gilgamesh is something less serious then the actual story. He takes the story of when Gilgamesh rejects Ishtar and turns it into something of a comedy. He portrays her as some vindictive woman much like every guy would say is like their ex. This portreal put the story of Gilgamesh in a genre we never exspected to see it, a comedy.

    The story of Beowulf is as eternal, as the english classes they are read in. No other part of this epic is more famous then the battle with Grendel. While it is easy to draw Beowulf, Grendel's true form has been debated over and over. Some have said he is a giant, with long black greasy hair. Others have shone him as some reptilian beast with scales, claws and sharp teeth. Hinds seemed to draw from both popular depictions. Grendel seem human(ish) in this picture with hair and has a human figure. While he also has some reptile qualities to him as you can see the teeth, claws, his eyes, and what alsmost looks like scales. Regardless of Grendel's true form Hinds did the story justice with his art style and vivid scenes.

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  23. Robert Conway

    What we see from Dixon's graphic rendition of Gilgamesh is something less serious then the actual story. He takes the story of when Gilgamesh rejects Ishtar and turns it into something of a comedy. He portrays her as some vindictive woman much like every guy would say is like their ex. This portreal put the story of Gilgamesh in a genre we never exspected to see it, a comedy.

    The story of Beowulf is as eternal, as the english classes they are read in. No other part of this epic is more famous then the battle with Grendel. While it is easy to draw Beowulf, Grendel's true form has been debated over and over. Some have said he is a giant, with long black greasy hair. Others have shone him as some reptilian beast with scales, claws and sharp teeth. Hinds seemed to draw from both popular depictions. Grendel seem human(ish) in this picture with hair and has a human figure. While he also has some reptile qualities to him as you can see the teeth, claws, his eyes, and what alsmost looks like scales. Regardless of Grendel's true form Hinds did the story justice with his art style and vivid scenes.

    ReplyDelete

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