Friday, November 07, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #309: Howl by Allen Ginsberg & Eric Drooker

There are very few graphic novels based on poetry. I won't claim any particular number -- since I'm sure there are some odd things lurking about that I haven't seen -- but I'd be surprised if that number were higher than the very low double digits. The two forms come from different cultural places, which explains some of that disconnect, but we can easily imagine how some of the right imagery would work very strongly with the right poem. Poetry is all about making words work really hard, after all, for imagery or story or atmosphere, and the words in comics have to work very hard to justify their space, too.

So there may be more things like this in the fullness of time. But, for now, they're pretty rare. Howl is perhaps even more complicated than that: it's a graphic novel made from (as far as I can tell) a sequence or two from the movie Howl depicting the thrust of the poem of the same name. The movie as a whole is slightly more conventional, with a narrative and characters and dialogue and so forth, but the animated sequences are phantasmagorical, riffing on the imagery and language and concepts of the poem like jazz, becoming the visual equivalent of the poem.

The poem, of course, is by Allen Ginsberg, originally published in 1956 and a modern classic almost immediately. The animated sequences of the Howl movie were designed and storyboarded by cartoonist Eric Drooker, who actually worked on another project with Ginsburg before his death in the late '90s and whose usual agitprop wordless scratchboard look and fervent committed politics are clearly very simpatico with Ginsberg's similar leanings. It was a great and inspired pairing: two intense creators of very different generations and forms with enough common ground to make for sparks.

The book Howl deconstructs the animation from the movie into single images, not always in the same sequence as in the animation, and pairs those images directly with the full text of the poem, presented one line or so to a spread. So each thought in the poem gets an image -- not to say that Drooker illustrates the poem, since he's never working that simply, but the images amplify or riff on or harmonize with the words. (The book's credit is "Animated by Eric Drooker," which is a strange and silly thing to say about static images on flat pages, but you can get what they're trying to say.)

Howl is not an easy poem; it's a cry against the dehumanizing world, the straight world (in at least two senses), the working world, the boring world, the capitalist world, the world that never lives up to expectations. Drooker's images provide one way into that cry, an angle of attack on that free-form flow of words and emotions, but it's not the only way, and certainly not the way. Some readers, particularly those who read Howl long ago and have their own images of it, won't want or need Drooker's version.

But this graphic novel of Howl is an amazing thing, an inspired melange of words and art. I'd love to see more similar works -- who could do Prufrock? Or The Prelude? Or Paterson? The field is still wide open; many wonders could still be ripe for the creation.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

1 comment:

Jee Jay said...

re: Prufrock, there is at least one person giving it a shot:

Post a Comment