Sunday, April 20, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #109: The Complete Don Quixote by Cervantes and Davis

There was a time when "classics in comics" meant short pamphlet comics, the equivalent of Cliffs Notes and about as faithful to the original work. Sure, some of them were good for what they were -- the long history of Classics Illustrated has quite a number of gems in it, in its various incarnations -- but those were almost an accident, since the point of the exercise was to create a steady stream of product. It was classy, it was educational, and it got bought in giant piles by schools and civic organizations and libraries and so forth, to instruct and lead the young of several generations.

That era ended quite a while ago, though -- the CI revivals of the past two or three decades have all been clearly revivals, and none of them have taken quite as strongly as the original. (Though they've still provided the same thing as the original: educational stuff in a form that educators and librarians hope kids will enjoy on their way to the "real thing.") But there's instead been a continuing stream of individual classics adaptations, from individual artists, that don't strive to put the original works into identical yellow-colored boxes for classroom use.

Seymour Chwast has adapted a few book over the past decade, for example. R. Crumb went back to the beginning to draw his version of The Book of Genesis. The Graphic Canon is a huge project -- three fat volumes so far -- full of adaptations by dozens of artists of as many famous works. And of course P. Craig Russell has had his regular graphic novels adapting operas, a combination no one else would have dreamed of.

Add to that list The Complete Don Quixote, a graphic novel adapted and drawn by Rob Davis from the original novel by Miguel de Cervantes. (I don't see any indication of what translation was used here -- other than Cervantes from the original Arabic of Cide Hamete Benegeli -- so I assume either Davis did his own translation from the original Spanish or used a safely out-of-copyright translation.) Like the original, Davis's Quixote divides into two books -- which were originally published separately -- and he uses the voice of Cervantes, from his prison cell, as his narrator.

I haven't read the Quixote in close to two decades, and I'd forgotten just how funny this story is: Quixote himself, the deluded nobleman-turned-knight-errant, is amusing enough, but his squire, Sancho Panza, is just that tiny bit closer to reality (and not nearly as stupid as he and everyone else assumes) to make his fervent following of Quixote both sad and hilarious. The other characters around them are mostly straight men: they're either trying to get Quixote back from his delusions or indulging him in them to amuse themselves (sometimes in horribly funny, Jackass-level pranks, showing that is not a new impulse at all).

But I'm not going to tell you the story of Don Quixote here: it's a masterpiece of world literature, the source of reams of learned commentary -- and, as I just said, still fun and sprightly and funny even hundreds of years later. You'd be much better served just reading the book -- it's out of copyright, so I'm sure several translations are only a click away, and even more modern renderings won't cost much in electronic form.

Of course, Cervantes' novel is a long one, and Davis's adaptation would be an excellent way to dip your toe into the Quixote, to see if its humor fits your tastes. It's also a lovely and amusing adaptation even for people who have already read Cervantes -- one of the better adaptations of this current cycle, keeping the humor and matter of the original but giving it a new gloss and skin to better help a new audience find it.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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