Thursday, February 19, 2015

Graphic Poetry

So many of the adaptations we've read so far cut out much of the original language of their sources just in order to "tell" the story. Thankfully, you can't do that with a poem; in fact, with each line illustrated, an entire new dimension appears, one that expands rather than condenses the essence of the text. Time, which almost seems to rush by in the steady narrative frames we've seen so far, now almost stands still; indeed, in his adaptation of Shakespeare's Sonnet #18, Robert Berry and Josh Levitas often break a single line into three bubbles, as he does here. Berry also manages to give the poem a new, redoubled subject: the death of his own mother, and his memories of her. The "summer's day" gives the panels their dominant, golden color, and the passage of time moves forward and backward from memory to the present, where the poem is "set" in Levitas's own home studio.

Not everyone seems to be fully at home with the slower, more methodical pace of poetry; Yien Yip's version of Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" seems to almost rush by, cramming the poem itself into the corners of its slapdash, unengaging artwork. And yet some can be remarkably lush, as with Duke's adaptation of Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," whose vivid colors and elaborate detail match those of the original poem's opium-induced hallucinatory vision.  And, although it's more an illustration than a full graphical realization, Ventura's "Ozymandius" panel certainly dramatizes its subject forcefully.


  1. I thought portraying poetry in illustrations would be hard and weird but as I thought about it more, it is not as hard as I originally thought, and it actually can be fun and easy or it can be challenging, depending on the poet and the artist.

    For Instance: Shakespeare’s Sonnet #18 can be interpreted in many different ways. A friend recently told me that Sonnet #18 is about a man, which is something a never knew, but she also clarified that back then that is how poets made money, someone would want a poem for a particular person to be written and they would go to said poet to get it written. It can be true that Shakespeare did in fact write about a man (of course I am not sure if there is undeniable written proof that explains his works were written for men). It makes perfect sense. There is no clear indication on the gender of the narrator, nor there is a gender of the person it is about. You can translate the story however you like and I really think that is brilliant. It fuels the imagination and makes you have your own opinion.

    I really enjoyed Levita’s interpretation of Sonnet #18. It’s very sad and it made me think of my own mother, yet it proves that this sonnet can be turned into any given subject. I would have never imagined that poem be about a dying mother, until Levita drew an illustration about it. You could even say Sponge Bob is reciting this to Mr. Crabs or Ned Stark is reciting in his head thinking about his family. It fuels and feeds the imagination. I truly believe Levita’s version was beautifully perceived.

    I am also not fond of the “To His Coy Mistress” interpretation. The art does defiantly resemble Japanese manga art style, which is very interesting, but I agree it was rushed and was not planned as well as it could have been. The font was also annoying to read. I didn’t enjoy the literature as much as I wanted to. I hope one day someone will agree with this and redraw it so it could be as good as it should be.

  2. I believe poetry is written to grant the imagination freedom; freedom comes from the interpretation of the lines. When adapting poetry into a graphic format such freedom is denied. As a reader, I want to be able to read the poem as I wish. I don’t want to be slowed down, rushed, or impregnated with images of another’s interpretation.Poetry can be read in so many different ways, but that should be choice of the reader, albeit the artist may be enlightening by directly the mind to a new perspective.
    “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day” in my previous knowledge was about wooing another. I had never considered it to be an eulogy. I will grant the artists credit where it is due because the artwork truly supported their rendition of the poem. The use of the yellow coloring was the “sunlight” which brought forth warm memories.
    “To Coy His Mistress” on the other hand…is a hot mess. The font was difficult to read while being overlapped with the images, the man’s hands are creepy, and the adaptation overall simply leaves me with the idea that the gentleman is a vampire. As odd as that sounds, the back and white scenes, the faceless woman who is a representation of the female population and not a single woman, and the full moon in the background on the last page created the idea about a vampire. The images alone created its own story to me and made me completely forget about the text.
    Mary Gaide

  3. Poems have always been a piece of literature that I never really was good at interpreting. I never understood the true meaning behind most pieces of poetry. However, this interpretation of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet #18” is amazing. I loved what Robert Berry and Josh Levitas created. I thought the illustrations were great. I like that Berry and Levitas took something that has been interpreted as romantic and turned it into something that people can really connect with: a loss of a loved one. It gives the reader a raw feeling rather than something based off of a whim. I have always thought that this sonnet was meant to be romantic. However, after seeing what Berry and Levitas have done I think it could mean something different. Sadly, we will never get to find out what it truly meant.
    To be completely honest, the images from “To His Coy Mistress” really didn’t help me at all. I think that illustrating a story is much easier than illustrating poetry. Poetry is hard to understand, so if you don’t understand it after reading, I personally think you’re done for. Nonetheless, this was absolutely dreadful to read and look at. I completely agree with Mary on this piece. I could just barely read the cursive writing and the man’s hands were creepy which reminded me of a vampire. I thought that the drawings were poorly drawn, and lacked detail. I did not like Yien Yip’s version of this at all. I personally think that this interpretation just discredits the poem altogether.

  4. I believe that Berry and Levitas did a wonderful job with the graphical theme of "Sonnet #18". The color scheme added a great emphasis on what the author intended to portray. The colors also showed the reader that this particular piece is multidimensional, with advances from past to present. The warmer tones showed a time of happiness and love, whereas the cooler tones portrayed a time of loss and emptiness. Typically when thinking back to better times, one is in a euphoric state of mind complemented with warm-toned colors. On the other side of the spectrum, when visualizing a sad time, these colors seem to change into a more doleful feel,
    To His Coy Mistress" on the other hand was solely captured in black and white shades. Although this approach added a very intense and dramatic essence, the crowding of literary content truly took away from the graphical piece. I feel that if Marvell would have extended this graphic by adding more scenes to go parallel with the content, it would have a better flow.

    Marissa DeRoy

  5. Corey Carvalho

    I had written a detailed post about how I enjoyed both poems, but when publishing my comment it all erased. Here is my second try:

    I was never a fan of poetry, as I always had a hard time understanding it. These adaptations definitely helped to paint a clearer picture of some of the emotions each poem is trying to convey.
    "To His Coy Mistress" had absolutely beautiful art. The black and white helped keep the poem elegant. It was definitely a great choice to keep the art in black and white.
    Sonnet #18 took a different approach which also worked very well. Never fully understanding Sonnet #18 as a kid, the art helped me piece together some of the emotions present in this poem. Using different tones throughout the poem helped me to understand some of the sadder moments and happier moments in the poem. It also helped that the setting of the art seemed to be present times.
    Although both poems were adapted much differently, both were done beautifully that worked wonderfully for each respective poem.

  6. Poetry for me has always been hard to follow and understand. Sometimes it can be very unclear on what the author is trying to portray through his words in the poem. Often I find myself making up a story in my mind that is far from what the author is trying to say. But maybe that is the beauty of poetry, that everyone interprets a different message and story from it. My favorite part about reading these adaptations through this graphic novel, is I am able to understand what the author is actually trying to portray through the artists illustrations. For example, when first reading Sonnet #18 by Shakespeare I would never think that it was about a son writing about to his dying mother. At first look, I imagine it to be almost a love poem between a mean and women. The illustrations really help portray the story behind the poem. The graphics along with the lines on each page made this “poem” a real tear jerker and now not only does it have me longing for my mother, but has me wanting to read some more Shakespeare. I really enjoyed Levita’s interpretation of Sonnet #18. However, when it comes to, “To Coy His Mistress” I have a lot of mixed feelings about this adaptation. The artist made the wording in a very unclear font, as well as displacing each stanza so it is hard to follow the poem. The pictures in the background are black and white as well as the wording so it also make sit hard to read. It's sad that Yien Yip couldn't have created a better adaptation for this graphic novel because I actually quite enjoy the poem. The poem, to me, is about a man and women falling in love (I'm a sucker for love stories) but are losing time. The man wants to have an emotional connection and take the girls virginity before they both run out of time and die. I'm guessing the font and pictures are depicted by Yien Yip's background as a Japanese artist, but I do believe Russ Kick could have found a better person to portray this poem, especially because I do love the story behind it.

  7. Poetry is written with one meaning in mind, brought unto by the author, but many different meanings are thought of by the readers. The beauty of poetry is that the reader can discover whatever meaning they want. My first thought of graphics being added to poetry was that it would take the freedom away from the reader. The pictures would then make the meaning more obvious, but after reading "To His Coy Mistress", I found that I was wrong. There are very few pictures to go along with the stanzas and they seem general to me. Each line does not exactly go with a graphic, which I believe is best. This still allows the freedom of the reader to interpret as they please. I would not have known that the poem was about a man trying to get a woman into bed if I hadn't read the introduction to it. The graphics did not make me discover this, but they still added to the poem overall. I enjoyed the simpleness of them because it helped to me come up with my own meaning behind it using the pictures as guides and additions to it. I did not enjoy the way "Sonnet 18" was set up. Different to the first poem, this one gives a graphic per line. I think this takes away from the freedom of the reader deciding their own meaning, as discussed before. To me the pictures here are just an unnecessary addition. They also seem very modern compared to the poem itself and take away from the Shakespearean feel. With poems, I would prefer simple graphics, with minimal colors that add to the general story, not the detailed meaning.

  8. I really enjoyed reading the adaptation of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18. I had read this poem in the past and always had the same images in mind of a love story. I was surprised and very pleased with Berry's point of view on the poem. I thought it was very intriguing that he related the poem to something that may have happened in his own life. I loved that the poem was set in his apartment, present day, but there were flashbacks of him and his mother as they were growing older. It puts the poem into a perspective that many people may be able to relate to, which I think is a very important aspect to portray in a story or poem.
    I also liked that the illustrations were shaded with different shades of yellow to portray the sun and the warmth of the poem. I think that the warmth of the yellow might represent the warmth and feelings he had toward his mother. It may also represent the way he felt when he was reminiscing on these memories of getting ice cream with his mother.
    I did not enjoy "To His Coy Mistress" as much as I enjoyed Sonnet 18. I felt like it was very rushed and that it needed to be more spread out with different illustrations. I did not particularly like the style of the pictures of this poem with the lack of detail on the faces and the people. I thought that the poem was about how you should seize the day and enjoy while it was here. That is why I thought it was odd that the poem was rushed.

  9. I didn't enjoy the art for "To His Coy Mistress". Specifically the males hands; his fingers were bulbous at the joints and I couldn't stop starring at the mangles claws he calls hands. I really distracted me form the poem.
    Sonnet 18 I enjoyed quite a bit. The " Where the Wild Things Are" cameo at eh end was superb. The transitioning between the warm yellows and black panels shift very smoothly with the tone to the text. I think the art brings a lot to this piece.

  10. The art from "To His Coy Mistress" wasn't the most appealing. The characters seemed to be un-proportional to actual people. It seemed to me very rushed and missing a lot of detail that could have really helped make the piece more appealing. It was also in a way misleading to me in the description it tells that the piece is a statement of carpe diem however it seems mostly dreadful rather then about making the best and taking advantage.

    However Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 had great aesthetic value in my opinion. The characters were very detailed with age. For example the mother when the man was a child has little to no wrinkles and when the man is an adult the woman had many wrinkles and looked aged. The detail was also portrayed in the background with the ice cream truck, the artist drawing his mother. Berry's drawings added to the piece in a great way showing. The flashbacks were a great way to play around with the scenery because you can actually how much the man loved his mother and how her being gone effects him greatly.

    In "A Modern Proposal" the drawings aren't necessarily appealing, yet they add to what is being written. When reading through the lines you can actually see the level of poverty and the struggles that were going on at the time that Swift is describing.Though the art was very simple it seemed to make the poem interesting. In a way having the poor drawings could possibly be used for symbolism in a way seeing as the poem is unpleasant therefor the artwork reflects it.

  11. Personally, I found the artwork in "To His Coy Mistress" to be intriguing. I thought it was definitely more of a victorian-gothic type of artwork but I liked that it was different from the rest. Not many people seem to be fond of it but I liked it. I liked how there were no eyes in some frames but you still were able to tell his expression through the other features of his face. I think Marvell demonstrated the act of time well through the frame in which she was old and not pretty as she was in the first frames. I also liked the writing style. With Sonnet 18, I didn't like how the author made himself part of the illustrations. I found that to be irrelevant and kind of strange. But I did like his thought bubbles and writing style as it was easy to read. I found "A Modest Proposal" to be a tad bit overwhelming with all the artwork and texts put together. I think the artwork itself was captivating with all the shading and expressions.

  12. I really enjoyed Sonnet #18. I thought it was a really clever way of interpreting the poem. I haven't read this poem in any other context but I definitely would't have thought of it being adapted in this way. I like the irony of a beautiful summer's day and death. How can death be represented beautifully?
    I thought that the simplicity of the artwork in "To His Coy Mistress" was interesting and intriguing. The characters reminded me of little aliens but not humans. I don't know if that's what the artist was trying to portray but he did a good job at making his artwork very abstract and not human-like. I didn't mind the artwork but I definitely think that it could be more detailed. It's a little too alien, childish like for me.

    1. Adding to my comments: I think that the irony within "Ozymandias" showed graphically through Vantura's work. The stone legs stuck in the sand, all that is left of a "pointless" king. The legs look as thought they are statues, like the remains of old empires across the world that are crumbling.
      I thought that Duke did such a beautiful job at illustrating "Kubla Khan". The poem itself is very detail orientated and the pictures definitely represent those details well. When I was reading the poem I was picturing something different in my head but the illustrations definitely enhanced that picture.

  13. I have always had a tough time understanding poetry but every single one I just read was easier than I expected. I really like how the pictures help give a sense of what is going on and what the author meant. Although, I feel like " A Modest Proposal " was very hard to follow at first because of how the texts were positioned but as soon as I figured out what was going on it became a easy read. - Brandon Men

  14. I really enjoyed the artwork in "Sonnet 18" adapted by Robert Berry and Josh Levitas. This adaptation takes on a completely different interpretation than what the original poem is about. I really enjoyed how this poem was portrayed. By using flashbacks and the sunny color scheme, the authors made the death of his mother seem a bit more comforting I you could say. It is as if he is thinking about the good times he enjoyed with his mother, bringing warmth and comfort to his heart instead of grief.
    On the other hand, I did not enjoy "To His Coy Mistress" nearly as much as. The font completely clashes with the illustrations which takes away from the artwork. I'm not sure why, but the character's hands are illustrated in an exaggerated way making them look very large, in a very odd way. I feel like this adaptation would be much better if it were spaced out and had more time taken with it.

  15. Robert Conway

    Sonnet 18 took a whooe new meaning in Berry's depictions. In the place of the lost lover we have the illustrater's own mother, which adds a very personal touch. This new way of seeing the poem gives it a different light, one that is evident even with the color choice of yellow. When I shifted over to Coy Mistress I saw something a that seemed rushed or unfinished. The poem takes on a different meaning then the original intent, but not in a good way. Instead of the original story of talking a woman to bed, it seems he is almost like a suiter who is proposing marriage. This new meaning detracts from the orginal peice in my opinion.

  16. I think poetry ranges from very good organization and creativity to a mess that is hard to read and dissect. To me, Sonnet #18 is somewhere in the middle. Robert Berry and Josh Levitas created an adaptation with great imagery, like they refurbished the original poem. It is "like" the old one, however it is a completely different creature. Personally I prefer the original.

  17. Admitting once being a fan of poetry, I find it interesting how artists interpret poems through their own artwork via their own perspective. Most poems conveys different meanings to different people. Its easier to be critical of poems and/or artworks. I do believe poetry should stay as written material, not images. Readers could easily be influenced by the artist to picture what the artist is picturing rather than create their own perspective. As Liz said, both Berry and Levitas creates an adaptation with great imagery. I just believe poetry should remain as a written form.

    Nathan Silva

  18. Poetry is a form of literature that we are taught to interpret by breaking it up into smaller pieces. In poetry, every line is important and open to interpretation. Turning poems into graphical adaptations has both positive and negative effects. One positive aspect of these graphical adaptations of poetry is that is helps the reader to break the poem down into smaller pieces in order to make it easier to interpret. The illustrations of the graphic adaptations of poetry can either help us to follow along with the poem and lead us to our own interpretation, or could possibly cause us to lose our ability to form an interpretation that is truly our own.

    In Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, Berry and Levitas depict the love between a mother and a son. However, someone else might interpret the poem as the love between a man and his wife. In my opinion reading a graphical adaptation of poetry shouldn’t cause someone to lose their ability to form their own interpretation, but instead it should promote a person’s critical nature of literature. With poetry as with other types of literature, there is no right or wrong, there is simply what you can prove. One person’s interpretation of a poem shouldn’t discourage someone else from forming their own interpretation but instead encourage it.


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