Saturday, April 18, 2015

Graphical Ulysseses

James Joyce's Ulysses is widely hailed as the great modernist novel, one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century, or of all time. And there's no question that, in its own day, it was a revolutionary text: an epic (or mock-epic) tale, doubling Dubliners with Greek mythology, all of which takes place in the course of a single day.

First published in France in 1922, it was soon declared to be obscene in both Britain and the United States; copies had to be smuggled in (one innovative British couple hid theirs in a box of "sanitary napkins"!). A famous court case in 1933 lifted the ban in the states, after which Random House brought out its first edition, seen here in the hands of Marilyn Monroe.

It wasn't easy reading. The "stream of consciousness" style dumped the internal thoughts of the characters onto the page in a sort of real-time sequence, connected as much by personal association as by plot. Guidebooks on how to read Ulysses sprang up, with Stuart Gilbert's being the first and best-known. And, more recently, disputes over textual variations -- the original edition was set by printers in Dijon who spoke no English, and subsequent editions did an imperfect job of implementing Joyce's corrections -- has led to duelling versions. I myself recommend the first edition of 1922, which, as its copyright is now expired, can be had in an affordable paperback from Dover Books.

In The Graphic Canon, we have two Ulysseses --the first by Robert Berry and Josh Levitas, the secind by David Lasky. Berry and Levitas offer a lush, colorful version, filled with the melodious phrases of the original novel; in contrast, Lasky offers a black-and-white and nearly wordless one; what few words there are are paraphrased. Barry and Levitas are adapting the full novel as an iPad app, under the title Ulysses Seen, and so far, theirs follows the text quite closely, though it acknowledges in its very title that seeing is quite different from reading. Lasky's stab at Joyce's novel appears to be just that; he's best known for his graphic history of the Carter Family, regarded as among the founders of modern Country music.

It could be argued that a big, wordy, and (purportedly) difficult classic could use a lighter, more visual treatment -- or else that, without its language, Ulysses isn't, well ... Ulysses. Which side are you on?

18 comments:

  1. Corey Carvalho

    I was not a huge fan of either adaptation. I dislike heavy language and phrases in novels, as I have a hard time keeping my focus and staying interested in these types of stories. However, if I had to pick an adaptation that I enjoyed more, it would have to be David Lasky's version. Although I agree that adaptations of epic, wordy stories should follow the same style as the first Ulysses adaptation, I preferred the second. I guess I liked its simplicity and lack of words. I have never read the original Ulysses, so I do not feel as if this particular adaptation should or should not use some of the original language. The only opinion I really have is that I enjoyed the simplicity of the second adaptation, and its use of simple language and easy to follow illustrations.

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  2. It was hard to understand the story looking at both adaptions. I do think that David Lasky's version of Ulysses is a lot more detailed but the drawings could be less cartoonish. The frames just remind of black and white cartoon comics or Garfield. I do think Lasky adds some humor to it where as Levitas is a little bit more serious and abstract. I didn't like the symbols used for the language on pg 249, it's too tacky for me.

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  3. After viewing both adaptations, I have come to the conclusion that they seem like two totally different stories. Even if I had to choose which one I liked better, I could not. They each had separate pieces to the adaptation that I enjoyed more. In the adaptation by Berry and Levitas, I enjoyed the illustrations and the color. It was more entertaining to follow because of the mixtures of colors. I think the artist did a great job in this sense. I preferred the organization found in Lasky's adaptation. It was much easier to know what came next since the illustrations were all drawn in squares that were one after the other. Story-wise, I didn't understand or enjoy either of the adaptations. They were very confusing and did not give me enough writing to work with.

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  4. If this blog is supposed to be about a comparison of the two adaptations, then there are different factors that need tone analyzed. Each adaptation appears to have combined more than one episode. The Berry and Levitas one goes from episode 2 (Nestor) to episode 4 (Calypso). The Lasky piece takes on the story from episode 2 until about episode 8 (Lestrygonians). The Berry and Levitas adaptation covers less of the episodes so it makes sense that there would be more text incorporated into the illustrations. In comparison, the Lasky adaptation has more ground to cover and needs to keep the story on a quick progression through the episodes. The use of a lot of text would slow that down. It does seem more confusing this way because without any background information about the original text, then a reader would think the adaptation has no plot or logical progression. Yes, each adaptation is an excerpt from “Ulysses” but each conveys the episodes in a different style. The style of artwork between the two are different in the fact that one is black and white while the other uses a watercolor illustration.To me the adaptations have both fallen short of portraying the original text. By reading these I had no idea that they were supposed to be modern version of the ancient work, “The Odyssey.” My first interpretation of the title was that it was an odd pairing for an English man with a bowler hat.

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    1. Mary, great comment! You're quite right that the pacing of the two adaptations is very different; Barry and Levitas have set themselves a long task -- no wonder their iPhone app isn't ready yet! -- while Lasky is quick and quiet in giving out the narrative. It would have been better if the two had both chosen the same episode, though at least they both have to carry Bloom through Dublin. Neither comes close, of course, to the original text -- and yes, Ulysses had the Odyssey too as its own frame story!

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  5. I have never read the actual book Ulysses, and after reading these adaptations, I still do not have any idea what the story is about. Even though they were both adaptations of the same story, they seemed like completely different stories. I was very confused while reading them and found myself having to fill in some blanks.
    The adaptation done by Berry and Levitas was very colorful. The illustrations seemed to be done with water colors. I did enjoy the artwork, but was very confused by the text. The text bubbles confused me the most. They were very scattered, and I was unsure which ones to read and when.
    The adaptation done by Lasky was much more comic strip like. It was completely in black and white which added to the comic strip affect. I did not like this artwork as much as the first adaptation. It was more boring to me. It also seemed like a lot of time was skipped over in between each box. I was very confused as to what was going on because it jumped around so much. I also had a hard time of keeping track of who was who.

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  6. The adaptations of Ulysses by Berry and Levitas and Lasky were both extremely different. The story itself seemed to be interpreted different by both adapters. While Lasky relies more on the pictures and not text, it leaves the reader to work out the story for themselves. Berry and Levitas did the opposite. They put in many phrases from the original Ulysses and added pictures. While their version is definitely more visually enhancing, I think I liked Lasky's version better. I didn't really understand the story too much while reading Berry and Levitas version. However, once I read Lasky's version, things were much easier to interpret because I wasn't focusing on text, I only had to look at pictures. Berry and Levitas version confused me more than it helped me; which is why I liked Lasky's version better.

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  7. Just a note to anyone who's interested -- you can also get the full text of Joyce's Ulysses online at Project Gutenberg.

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  8. The adaptation done by Berry and Levitas I found to be very lively and colorful. It was very enjoyable however, I did not really understand the message the story was trying to convey. While the other illustrated version reminded me of the comics they have on newspaper. Although it was confusing I was able to understand more than the adaption by Berry and Levitas. What I also noticed was that although they were both the same story the illustrations seemed different. The main character had the same outfit in both stories however at the end of Berry and Levitas story he had went home and had brought the mail to his wife and was mad at her for nagging him, while in the other version he went home and went to sleep. This story just made me think of how much an illustration can effect a story, the small things like having a story with color and one that is black and white. In the colored one you can tell if its night, morning, evening, while in the black and white one is harder to distinguish. In the adaption by Berry and Levitas at the end you could tell it was evening time because the sun was setting however in the black and white adaption it looked like night time when the main character was in his bed.

    Bryant Ayala

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  9. Both adaptions of Ulysses in Russ Kick’s Graphic Canon are strange to say the least. In Berrys and Levitas adaption, they give the readers color and more to work with when picturing the story in our heads. Laskys version is more popeye-esque with the art, but gives a whole adaption of Ulysses from beginning to end. The problem is, they are both hard to comprehend what went through Joyce’s mind when writing the infamous Ulysses. Should we even illustrate Ulysses? The soul and controversy in Ulysses is not just the “sex” within the novel, but the witty word play and the change from novel styled writing to dialogue from a script! What an illustrator should be capturing is exactly that, along with the story of course, because the story itself is hard to understand to most people. Though it is only about a simple day for one man, the creeks deep within the texts tell a greater story than what the reader may understand.

    Laskys version is more accurate to an actual comic. In a comic, one day for a character may take up to less than 36 panels, but I feel it failed to explain to uniqueness within Ulysses, but it did explain the story of Leopold bloom fairly well to those who cannot indicate what Joyce was going for. Berrys and Levitas interpretation is more accurate to the style of Joyce’s writing but it is much harder to interpret for people who feel deterred from the actual writing. Joyce is an interesting writer, and wrote a highly acclaimed novel of the 20th century. With its comparison to the Odyssey, it is astonishing how one day in Dublin can be equivalent to 20 years of travel.

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  10. Well if there were once guidebooks on how to read Ulysses, his material either needed adjustments or was too difficult to grasp for the majority of the literate population. By illustrating a nearly wordless adaptation, Berry, Levitas and Lasky contributes to the comprehension of the story more efficiently, if the Ulysses story was noncomprehending by most. Berry with Levitas illustrated the story with more of pleasant water painting art and stylized time frames.Although it was somewhat long, it was easier to follow along, because the whole page was full and packed together with numerous time frames unlike Lasky's version. I thought this version was hard to follow because I am not a fan of the black and white concept of art, I think it hinders from the artists abilities unless the artist is doing a really tragic scene or horror comic. I actually thought this version was miserably boring. No happy facial expressions were illustrated. At least the water painting style presented itself artistically calming and easy to read.


    Nathan Silva

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  11. Correction: because the whole page wasn't(*) full and packed together

    Nathan Silva

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  12. Both adaptations of "Ulysses" by Robert Berry and Josh Levitas were similar yet completely opposite. I really enjoyed Berry's version, as the drawings were as if they were form a cartoon strip, with lots of stimulating colors. The illustrations by Levitas were pretty dull, with not alot of life to them due to the lack of color. Along with the dullness, as i mentioned in the previous blog, I am not a fan of using all capital letters for a story. It makes it seem as though everyone is shouting and that really annoys me when trying to read it.
    Levitas used a combination of thought bubbles and text boxes which I found to be helpful when reading the dialog. I have never read Ulysses so naturally I was a little lost in these adaptations, but overall they were both OK.

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  13. Having never read the original text of Ulysses, I found both adaptations to be a bit confusing. Ulysses is a book I have always heard of as being either a pain to get through, or a joy to read. Nevertheless, I was still very intrigued while going through the adaptation. Berry and Levitas did a wonderful job in this pieces' rendering. I loved the water colors, as well as the facial expressions of Leopold Bloom. This particular adaptation gave much meaning to its original text. After reading it through a second time, I found it much easier to understand. Also, this piece really brought the expressions of the characters to life.
    As for the other adaptation I feel that Lasky did a terrible job! First of all, I absolutely hated the disclaimer at the beginning stating they had to take out certain details blah blah blah. I feel that it gave me a particular bias in regards to my thoughts towards the piece upon initial reading. It did just that! Now, it's obviously harder to have a bias towards something I have never read, such as the original text. However, my interest for the piece was lost. Not to mention the black and white style with six frames per page. I felt like this piece did not flow whatsoever, and I had the hardest time following along, no matter how many times I read it over.
    All in all, both adaptations were a little hard to get through. When adapting such a literary classic as Ulysses, it may seem like a monumental task. However, I would have to say that the first adaptation really struck me to be something special and well planned out in regards to the style and flow of the piece.

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  14. It was hard reading both of these adapatations because they both tell different stories, you can never get an underlying clear focus on what exactly Ulysseses is about. However, I did find that I found myself gravitating more to the adaptation by Robert Berry and Josh Levitas. This is because they offered a lot more arrays of colors and words, which made it easier to follow. The only turn off from this adapatation was that I found it to be TOO wordy and contain a rather large vocabulary of words. The other adaptation by Lasky was quite interesting, although it is not my cup of tea, the illustrations are dramatic and well done that they make you paint a story in your head and feel as if the story is coming alive. However, like I said its not as easy to follow, I would say you have to have some sort of background on Ulysseses. Both of these adaptations were extremely different but I like that Russ Kick included both of these in his graphic canon to show the variations that the words make within one of the adaptations and the progression that a near wordless adaptation can make as well.

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  15. After reading both adaptations, I also found both confusing. Ulysses was really hard to follow since I feel like it was written not in a modern way. I felt like I was reading a old text and the language of the text was not what I was use to so instantly I felt like it was a drag to read and very boring. The picture followed the story but they didn't help me understand what was being said, it was still challenging to read.

    Brandon Men

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  16. Amber SylvestreMay 3, 2015 at 6:55 PM

    I have never read the original "Ulysses" so both of these adaptations were hard for me to understand. I thought both of these adaptations were strange and difficult to interpret what was going on. Out of the two adaptations, I did enjoy the second one more (the one adapted by David Lasky). It was illustrated in a much more simple manner and had less text so it was easier to follow, but it was still confusing.
    The adaptation by Berry and Levitas was all over the place in my eyes. I enjoyed the use of color, but the text was all over the pages which made it confusing to follow. I didn't really know what was going on for most of the story and I was lost. I enjoyed the watercolor-like illustrations though.
    I definitely enjoyed the more simplistic adaptation of the two. They both were confusing, but the adaptation by Lasky was much easier to follow.
    I feel like a very long difficult text like "Ulysses" could be adapted graphically with the right text so readers could understand the story much better, but it would be a very difficult task to accomplish.

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  17. The adaptation of Ulysses by Robert Berry and Josh Levitas is definitely a more accurate portrayal of James Joyce’s original Ulysses. Berry and Levitas provide illustrations that are set within each other. This makes the adaptation harder to follow than the separate frames that are provided in the adaptation by Lasky, but gives it a feeling that is much closer to Joyce’s original version. Another aspect of Berry’s adaptation that seems to fit well with the original is the constant presence of thought bubbles. This presence of the characters thoughts is part of what made Joyce’s original Ulysses so unique. In my opinion, Lasky’s adaptation of Ulysses loses too much of what makes Ulysses what it is. Even though the lack of words and distinguishable frames make it easier to follow, I do not think it is an accurate representation of what Ulysses is. I agree that both of these versions are still difficult to follow. Instead of a continuous stream of information, both adaptations seem to contain random fragments that are difficult to piece together.

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