Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Canon as Foundation

Every modern language seems to have its vital, foundational literary work: Italian has Dante's Divine Comedy, Spanish has Don Quixote, and English has Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. And yet, like other such works, the writings of Chaucer are often more often talked about than read; unlike Shakespeare's, his characters have not so often strutted upon the stage. In the UK, the BBC has done them both as a period puppet piece as well as a modernized version, and in 1972 the great Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini made a memorable film version -- but here in the US there have been no major film or television adaptations.

All of which makes Seymour Chwast's version -- from which we have "The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale" -- all the more remarkable. Chwast has also adapted Dante, and his version is one of two that we'll read, the other one being by Hunt Emerson; this is the first of several works we'll see in competing versions.

Chwast's style -- linear, loopy, childlike and yet oddly adult, is perhaps a good mirror of Chaucer's own. The great poet, after all, chose to write in his own humble English vernacular, rather than Latin or French (the established literary language of his day), and his characters are everyday people, just about as 'down to earth' as you can get. I don't think it works quite as well with Dante; he doesn't seem to quite be able to manage the darker, more epic tones in the Inferno. Emerson perhaps fares a little better, but neither comes close to Gary Panter's twisted series, Jimbo's Inferno, Jimbo in Purgatory, and Jimbo's Adventures in Paradise. I'd certainly recommend seeking these out if you're curious.

But in the meantime, with the adaptations we have: do these "foundational" works benefit in a different way from being "graphicalized"? Are they more accessible, more engaging, less off-putting? Or is there, perhaps a mismatch in your view? Your comments below.


  1. Personally, I thought both pieces were presented in a comical way. Chwast chose to take a modern approach to the tale, starting with pilgrims on motorcycles. I would never think to have this tale be portrayed in this way. Although I have never read The Canterbury Tales, I can see why the stories have been used to teach in high schools. Chaucer's work is still relevant today, women marrying for money. I agree that his characters represent modern, everyday people. The adaptation by Chwast is very engaging because it's modernistic; it's easy to understand. The pictures help depict the thought bubbles and Chwast does a good job at making the tale easy to understand.

    The adaptation of The Inferno is hilarious. Emerson does a good job at depicting the story. This story is very "comic book" like, with the shading and the facial features of the characters. I think he does a good job at depicting Hell. I wouldn't have thought about it in this way without seeing this version of it. I like that he depicts almost every ditch and by doing so he creates what Hell is from sins people encounter in life. I like that he tries to lighten up the "mood" of Hell by making the two main characters funny. When you read about Hell you would think that it would be more gruesome and scary but Emerson made it a comedy instead. I think that it just adds to the irony of being in Hell.

  2. After reading Seymour Chwast’s version of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath” in The Canterbury Tales, I would have to say that I liked it. I thought it was equally as good as Chaucer’s version. Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” is a satirical story that is supposed to make fun of certain aspects of society. I think it portrayed some key points that just reading the story would not have covered. Chwast’s version very well includes the satirical aspect with the graphics. Chwast’s version shows that some women really do marry not in the act of love but in the act of personal gain from money, and in the case of this interpretation, land.

    As for Hunt Emerson’s version of “The Inferno” by Dante Alghieri, I thought it was great. The comical aspect kept me interested throughout the entirety of the story. I liked that even though this story should have been somewhat morbid since Dante is going through the 9 circles of hell, Emerson kept the story comical and rather uplifting. I liked the graphics because it helped me personally understand the story better. I never read “The Inferno” in school, so I don’t really have that much to compare it to, but I liked it.

    Sometimes graphics help readers understand a story better and fully grasp the concept better. However, I would have to say that foundational works have equal benefits to graphicalized works. Foundational works are the classics; they haven’t been changed and they haven’t been interpreted differently through graphics. However, graphicalized works are most of the time easier to read and will tell the basic information needed to understand the story. Graphicalized works can be changed from the original; sometimes making the story opinionated. This is why I think it is better to read the foundational work with a graphicalized work. If you do this, you will know what the adaptation is trying to convey and see if they tried to change it.

  3. These famous works of literature do benefit in the sense of understanding the concept being delivered. After scoping through the excerpt of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” Prologue, it was hard to grasp what Chaucer was trying to say in that form of story telling. Chwast’s version is almost a translation and I understood it more in the graphic rendition. The illustrations are very unique, I agreed with what you said that they are child and adult like. The story itself is very comical but has a nice meaning.

    Chwast and Emerson’s rendition on Dante’s Inferno was very interesting and very comical. I almost pictured Virgil (Or whoever is guiding Dante) voiced by Danny DeVito. I also loved how they broke the fourth wall in some scenes. The rendition is well put together and very understandable. Both works are originally in a poetic format using vernacular that isn’t used much in modern days.

    It’s almost ironic how funny Dante’s Inferno is, because it is supposed to state the horrors of hell and explain where each type of sinful being will end up. Chwast and Emerson really changed that up and almost turned it into a Disney kind of feel, if Disney had more adult content that is. Chaucer’s Wife of Bath seemed to be comical originally, to draw in readers to his work of writing. The art style was odd and I wasn’t quite fond of it but maybe the artists had a certain vision I didn’t pick up. Maybe she was trying to portray a kid explaining Chaucer’s piece. Either way, it was easier to understand and that is what the artists wanted to centralize.

  4. I found both of these renditions surprisingly enjoyable to read. Emerson’s rendition of Dante’s “Inferno” was very unique. The story illustrations made me feel as if I was the character Hades from Hercules. I felt this way because just like Hades, the graphics gave off a cynical but humorous vibe. I was almost unexpected by all the humor packed into this story due to the fact “Dante’s Inferno” is suppose to depict the sins of hell. Chwast’s adaptation of “Canterbury Tales” gives you a completely new reaction to the story. Chaucer’s prologue is very all over the place, hard to understand, and just plain boring. The graphic story created by Chwast tells a story that is easier to follow. The illustrations, just like “Dante’s Inferno”, are very humorous and relate to the inner “child” in me (although I would really not recommend these graphics for children). Chwast almost completely removes Chaucer’s impact as an author and turns it into his own story, which is something I don’t really agree with. Chwast’s version of Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath” was very easy to follow through the comic panels, but to me almost lacked the tone and depth I found in Emerson’s version of Dante’s “The Inferno”. I still can’t tell if Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath” benefited from being told graphically but I do believe that Emerson did an outstanding job portraying Dante’s “Inferno” through illustrations. These two adaptations ironically do display a different story graphically, one that I feel as if more people can relate to, so I can see as why you would pick them out for us to read.

  5. I believe that these “foundational” works do benefit from being “graphicalized.” I was much more eager to read them and to discover what they were about while being able to follow along with the illustrations. I am always interested and excited to find out what style each rendition will portray each week, and I am always surprised. The illustrations allow readers to really understand what the original authors were trying to portray in their story. The illustrations somewhat modernize these stories for us by turning them into a style we might understand more clearly.

    I believe that all three renditions from this week were from a comical standpoint. I think that this was a very smart idea from all three authors because it made each story more appealing to a younger age group, yet still appealing to adults. It was very intriguing to read and to see how Chwast and Emerson could turn something so dreadful as hell into something almost enjoyable and easy to laugh at.

    The style that Chwast chose for the Canterbury Tales rendition was a little odd (with the motorcylces), but it proved to be comical. Though it was a little odd, I did enjoy the illustrations, and they made the story easier to understand. I liked seeing what Chwast thought the Wife of Bath looked like because when I read this in high school, I always tried to imagine her.

  6. The two graphic adaptations of the traditional literary works were very entertaining to read. They were comical to the point that they seemed a bit childish, but still brought the stories across clearly to the readers. In "Dante's Inferno", the characters gave of a witty humor, especially when describing the layers of hell. The pictured as well, and the way the story was written gave a type of a modern twist on the story to make it more entertaining for the reader in recent years. Reading this adaptation gave me a sort of Disney feel. It made me understand the story, but in a different light. It had a childish feel to it, even though it was still meant for adults. But I believe that makes it easier and better to read, at no matter what age. In "Wife of Bath", Chwast also gave a witty personality through the woman telling the story. I enjoyed this story more because, being of the same gender, I saw it as being very comical. It made laugh at times because of the way this woman explained her life and her morals when it came to men. To me, it was interesting to see the differences of the two stories with help from the comedy part of them. They both showed a sense of some lewd comedy, but it was different to the genders used. It is not often that we see this type of comedy brought through a woman's point of view, which I enjoyed. It showed gender equality even through graphics and stories.

  7. These “fundamental” literary works can benefit from being placed in the Graphic Canon. First, by being placed into a different format the works are firmly secured as being apart of the A-list. It would appear that a story is important enough if it is portrayed in different formats.Second, the graphic versions enable a larger audience to be privy to the stories. Dante wrote “The Divine Comedy” in Italian and Chaucer used the vernacular of his time. Although there are interpretations of each story already in circulation, the artwork alone allows for the story to be told with less words.Lastly, by being portrayed as a comedy, the pieces are more easily enjoyed. Most works listed as a fundamental piece in a canon are not read to be enjoyed but read due to a sense of obligation.

    Chwast’s adaptation of “The Divine Comedy” was well done; however, the use of a 1920s character theme is confusing. To intertwine a newer perspective to the story is refreshing, but the story was written in a much earlier period. I would’ve expected the characters of Dante, Virgil, and Beatrice to be represented in an ancient Roman motif. The piece loses a bit of historical background. Emerson’s portrayal of the Dante’s “Inferno” characters were more of what I expected them to be. Even Dante was drawn wearing his well known cap, so the historical aspects of the piece held true. The renditions of the demons actually suited Emerson’s approach towards a comedic piece. I suppose by drawing them in such a manner alleviated some of the gore. Both Chwast and Emerson had drawn their adaptations in black and white which may also be another attempt to reduce the gruesome aspects of Dante’s Hell.

    Chwast’s “The Canterbury Tales” was drawn in a similar fashion as the work formerly mentioned. The artwork itself seems a bit simplistic. The tale was told well, but I think the use of motorcycles instead of horses is a bit ridiculous. The rest of the artwork is drawn in accordance to the tale’s historical background, but not the mode of transportation. Was this a jest?
    Mary Gaide

  8. I have read Dante’s Inferno before, and art adaption of it made it more interesting to read. The art itself is a little strange, I would expect it to be a really dark type of art seeing as how it takes place in hell. However to my surprise it was very cartoony and involves a lot of comedy. Right from the start it grabbed my attention when Dante and Virgil where at the edge of the “River of Tears.” In Seymour Chwast’s version of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath” was also a great story. I found it very amusing how women were depicted in the story and can say that some are like that today. Mostly though are just money hungry and marry men for their money. The art from this story reminded me of books that I read when I was in second grade excluding the nudity. It was very strange art that at the same time made the story more enjoyable. In the introduction it talked about how most people read this story in high school, for me however it was the first time I even heard of it. I am glad I read it, it was very entertaining and it would be hard for me to choose between this on and “The Inferno.”

    Bryant Ayala

  9. Graphical works of literature such as Chwast's rendition of "The Wife of Bath's" and "The Divine Comedy" do enhance the understanding of the two particular stories. Creating foundational works into graphical novels in order to be visual to the naked eye brings to light many things that may have been misunderstood previously. The rendition style plays a major part into the perspective of the reader. I agree that Chwast's rendition of Chaucer and Dante are both very childlike. The style Chwast chose complimented "The Wife of Bath's" because that story is less serious and more silly. His rendition allowed this story to be more enjoyable, inviting and understandable.

    As for Chwast's rendition of "The Divine Comedy" I thought it did not compliment it at all. My idea of an "Inferno" would be a more mature style of art with dark and red colors. Chwast's style was more humorous and there was no depth. Emerson's version of The Inferno was just as humorous as Chwast, the only difference that I did like was darker color tone of black which did create a more serious vibe to it. The character design reminded me a lot like trolls which did not replicate what I would have imagined.
    Overall Chwast's style choice was perfect for "The Wife's Bath", as for Dante it did not cut it.

  10. I think the "foundational" works do benefit from the illustrations or having been "graphicalized". There is something more comprehendible about stories told though illustrations versus just plain text. I will be honest in saying, the pictures hold my attention longer, especially with "classic literature".
    Russ Kick and Emerson's interpretation of The Inferno is very funny! It really paints a picture of what hell could look like with the ditches and the characters involved except there is comedy added.
    I read Canterbury Tales in high school and it was difficult and a bit boring to read. Reading this version with the illustrations was a little better, but still it is a weird story for me. I didn't really understand the motorcycles addition.

  11. When reading Chwasts adaptation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath” in the Canterbury Tales, I found it to be very engaging and funny. I also think it was just as good as Chaucer’s version of the tale due to the sarcastic humor that was illustrated and that was easily portrayed. Chwasts version is a comic piece that tells the story of what women want in a relationship. I found it funny to read that all the “dancing maidens” were saying they wanted honor, to be flattered, freedom, sec, great clothes, money and trust. I can agree that for some women, this really is the case. Some do it for love, but others do it for money and sex and I think we can all agree that everyone has different opinions on this. I really did like this version because the pictures really capture the sarcastic tone that is carried throughout Chaucer’s original version. I think that graphics when included with texts in literature really help bring out the story and what point is trying to be taught. Both the foundational works and the graphical adaptions go really well together in some cases.

    In Emersons adaption of Dantes Inferno by Dante Alighieri, I found myself laughing a few times. For example, when Dante asked Virgil what type of “naughtiness” the 8th circle of hell punishes for and Virgil says its for “miserable wretches” of fraud. Dante responds by saying “ wow, heavy man!” which I found to be hilarious because of the fact that they are traveling through the circles of hell and just a comment like that really lightens the mood for the ready. Its definitely a morbid story not meant to be funny, but this rendition of the tale gave it a more humorous feel to it which made it easier for readers like myself to enjoy reading it.

    I really do find these “foundational” works adapted into graphical novels to be a lot of fun to read. I have been actually enjoying reading these works because of the graphics and comic feel to them all. Its cool to see the different types of artwork the artists use to portray these stories. Its 100% more engaging for me personally.

  12. I do not believe these foundational works benefit in a different way from being “graphicalized,” for the most part. I once read Dante’s Inferno before by Alighieri and the beauty of the literature work was being able to envision the different levels of hell and the personal vision of what hell is. From a graphicalized version, it basically takes away freedom to the reader what to envision. In the Dante’s Inferno piece is was a mismatch in my iew. But different stories require different levels of imagination. Some stories do benefit from being graphic such as Gilgamesh, where it helps the reader imagine a time where the reader is not fond of. Overall it is engaging but stories do depend on the reader. Some canons work in favor of the imagination and story and some do not to the reader.

    Nathan Silva

  13. With regards to Dante's Inferno, I do not believe the graphical interpretation of Hunt Emerson truly captured the common interpretation of what hell is to popular belief. I feel Hunt Emerson's artwork forms a creative barrier for the reader because it prevents them from giving meaning to the narrative and truly Invision the literature in their own unique way. The reason why I feel this way, is due to the artists' rendition of a lighter and more comical approach to the levels of hell. It is clear that the author chose this approach. However, I truly feel that there is a mismatch in themes.

    Marissa DeRoy

  14. I actually found both of these graphic works to be interesting and entertaining to read. I think the graphic interpretation of these "foundational" works gives each piece a different feel to it. The graphic adaptation of "The Wife of Bath's Prologue" seems to be more like a translation with the wording and the graphics working together hand in hand. It is much easier to understand than the original. At times, it did feel like the wording was a bit vague.
    The graphic adaptation of "The Inferno" was very comic book like. The illustrations made the story a bit more comical, which does not seem like a typical characteristic of "hell". The graphics help tell the story and it aides in visualizing what is happening in the story.
    These "foundational" works do benefit in a different way from being "graphicalized". They are more engaging and entertaining; and also have a comical aspect which you would think is unlikely. Interest does not seem to be lost while reading these graphical adaptations, which is a good thing. Some aspects of these illustrations were weird and hard to understand why they were included. The idea of "hell" in the graphical adaptation of "The Inferno" was definitely made in a comical way and was unexpected.

  15. Corey Carvalho

    I found both of Chwast's adaptations to be extremely boring to read. I enjoyed Chwast's "The Wife of Bath" adaptation a little more than his other one. Adapting a novel into something graphic should engage the reader. With a lot of the previous adaptations, I was engaged and wanted to learn more. However, Chwast did a horrible job convincing me to want to read any of the novels he adapted. I believe this was because I wanted to get through it as fast as possible because the art was not appealing to me whatsoever.
    Emerson's adaptation, to me, was fantastic. It was very comical. The reason I love it so much is because the art is very comic book like and extremely expressive. I love the interjections that appear in some of the panels, as they help to draw me into this dark comedy.
    I believe that graphic novels of these "foundational" works help to draw readers into the overall story without being too dense in content. It should provide a way for the reader to not have to focus so much on the meanings of individual words and instead focus on the overall message. Emerson accomplishes this very well in his adaptation, while Chwast leaves me not wanting to even look at any of his works ever again.

  16. I found The Inferno to be the most entertaining reading so far. The pictures really caught my attention and it made me want to find out more. I also like how the author referred back to the audience who was reading and cleared some things up, it was very different to read but it also helped out a lot. I enjoyed this reading and hope to read more like this. - Brandon Men

  17. Robert Conway

    I will be honest and say right now, I have never read Dante's Inferno. I know that it is a serious story of Dante's trip through hell, but that was it. So when I looked at the depiction, I was a little suprised at how comedic they made it. It was definitly one of the more whimsical renditions we have seen so far.

  18. These “foundational” works do benefit from being from being “graphicalized” however I think they benefit in the same way as many of the other works in the Graphic Canon. In “graphicalizing” these works of literature, they become easier to read and understand. The graphic nature makes it easier to work through an aspect of the work that may have been difficult to comprehend in a text only verison. These “foundational” works do become more accessible and engaging in a graphic form but I think this is a benefit of most graphical adaptations and therefore I do not necessarily think they benefit in a different way.

    One particular aspect that each of these "foundational" works share that definitely benefits from being “graphicalized” is the underlying humor in each. The graphic versions of each of these stories convey the underlying humor in a way that is much easier to pick up on. Sometimes a particular style is more suited to one work than another and I think we see this with Chwast. I agree that his particular style works much better with “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue” than it does with “The Inferno”. Despite this, his graphic version of “The Inferno” still makes the story more engaging, and I believe that this is the case with most graphical adaptations.


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