Thursday, January 20, 2011

Book-A-Day 2010 # 351 (1/20) -- Ayn Rand's Anthem: The Graphic Novel by Santino & Staton

I'm honestly surprised that it took until 2011 for a philosophy as inherently cartoonish as Objectivism to be turned into a graphic novel; I expected Ayn Rand's glib certainties and sweeping generalizations would have been taken up by some fast-talking comics purveyor long before this. But apparently not: only now has Rand's slim pamphlet of a selfishness-is-good manifesto been turned into an equally slim comics version, with characters just as clean-featured and Aryan as anyone could have asked for. (And, yes, Rand's own ancestry makes that ironic, but it made it ironic long, long ago, and by her own hand.)

The resulting object has the appropriately grandiose title Ayn Rand's Anthem: The Graphic Novel, and was adapted by Charles Santino (who also served as Production Director) and drawn by Joe Staton. It appears, in fact, to have been shot directly from Staton's pencils, giving the entire book a sketchy, unfinished look.

The story of Anthem is just as pure and uncompromising as it was when we all first read it at the impressionable age of thirteen. (I pity anyone who comes to Anthem for the first time older than mid-teens; I doubt it would work at all.) In an unspecified future, the dirty Commies have conquered the whole world, and made all men utterly equal -- abolishing individual names, sorting everyone into occupations by cruel whim, and, worst of all, eliminating the first person singular pronoun, Ayn Rand's most prized possession. But there's one man -- strong, upright, even-featured, blond, attractive, smart as only an author's pet can be -- named Equality 7-2521 who discovers lost and forgotten things, is a one-man technological Renaissance, falls in love with a woman who is equally attractive and blonde though not shown to be particularly intelligent, and who inevitably falls foul of the evil and corrupt government of his village before escaping into the untamed wilderness where he finds an amazingly preserved modernist bungalow to raise his inevitable brood of little egomaniacs.

When you're a smart teenager, feeling oppressed by the entire rest of the world -- which you're morally certain is vastly beneath you in intellect -- Anthem is one of those stories that says "there's a bigger world than this, and you can get out and find your place in it." For that message, it's very welcome -- but the "shadowy leftist forces will drag all men to their level" message was more entertainingly, and briefly, encapsulated in Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" a quarter-century later. And Rand's love affair with her own unbridled will is tiresome even in so short a piece. So leave Anthem, in whatever form, for the terminally teenaged or the more-libertarian-than-thou; they'll enjoy it more than the rest of us, anyway.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

1 comment:

Rick Marazzani said...

I interviewed Charles Santino, the writer of the new graphic novel version of Anthem. It is interesting how is adapted the story to the illustrated comic format. Check it out.

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