Graphic Classics: Free Comic Book Day
Written by Edgar Allan Poe, Rod Lott, Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Conan Doyle, Alex Burrows, Mary Shelley, Antonella Caputo, Lord Dunsay, and Milton Knight.
Illustrated by Gerry Alanguilan, Mark Dancey, Simon Gane, Anne Timmons, and Milton Knight
This Free Comic Book Day is shaping up to be pretty cool. First there’s news of an Atomic Robo offering, and then I got word that Graphic Classics is also getting into the fun. Better than that, I got a preview of the Graphic Classics FCBD issue and it’s worth getting excited about.
Unlike most Graphic Classics volumes, the 64-page FCBD issue doesn’t focus on a single author or even a single genre. Instead it presents a cross-section of the kind of stuff Graphic Classics puts out, which is what a FCBD offering should do. There’s a horror story by Poe, a one-page fable by Ambrose Bierce, a supernatural tale by Arthur Conan Doyle, a gothic love story by Mary Shelley, and a whimsical tale of world destruction by Lord Dunsay.
I’ll start with Lord Dunsay’s poem “A Narrow Escape,” because it’s a perfect example of what Graphic Classics does well. Dunsay’s poem certainly has a sense of humor, but having Milton Knight – a Graphic Classics regular – adapt it in his zany, animated style makes it downright hilarious.
Bierce’s fable “Diagnosis” is also funny, but in a subtler, more thoughtful way. The joke is in the moral, which leaves Bierce mostly responsible for the chuckle, but like “A Narrow Escape,” “Diagnosis” is illustrated by an artist perfectly suited for it. Mark Dancey isn’t screwball funny like Knight, but he’s quietly clever. It’s remarkable how he can convey emotion on an oyster without giving it a face.
Doyle’s story about “John Barrington Cowles,” a handsome young man in love with a true femme fatale, will be quite a surprise to anyone who only associates Doyle with Sherlock Holmes. That’s business as usual for Graphic Classics though. They always give you some familiar stuff to make you comfortable and then introduce you to something wonderful that you’ve never heard of before. There’s something of a mystery to “Cowles” as the narrator, a friend of Cowles, tries to figure out why all of Cowles’ girlfriend’s previous attachments have ended up insane. But it’s not the typical Holmesian whodunit. It’s darker and more personal than that. Illustrator Simon Ganes has a wonderfully busy, angular style that’s perfect for the Victorian story. He’s also remarkably adept with faces and body language, so the characters’ shifts in mood and personality throughout the tale are utterly convincing.
Speaking of familiar stuff, Gerry Alanguilan’s detailed linework on Poe’s “The Black Cat” is moody and gruesomely violent. Exactly what a story about a vengeful, one-eyed cat needs.
My favorite story in the book though is Mary Shelley’s “The Dream.” I love Mary Shelley. Frankenstein is awesome, but I also like her short story “The Mortal Immortal,” which I stumbled across in an anthology of macabre stories I had as a kid. And now I love “The Dream,” which is about star-crossed lovers on opposite sides of the French Wars of Religion in the sixteenth century. Constance, the beautiful Countess de Villeneuve, was in love with handsome, young Gaspar until the wars put their families at odds with one another. Now Constance blames Gaspar for the death of her parents, but King Henry IV wishes the couple to be married. Constance has a decision to make. Does she remain loyal to her family and enter a convent in order to be done with love? Or does she follow her heart and obey her king?
The title of the story hints at her decision-making process, but the procedure also includes a mysterious chapel, a dangerous night spent asleep on a narrow ledge, and a daring rescue. And once again, Anne Timmons’ delicate, intricate illustrations perfectly capture the time period and the dream-like quality not only of Constance’s perilous evening on the ledge, but also of her tumultuous, out-of-control life in general.
I should also add that none of these stories have appeared in other Graphic Classics collections. The authors have – or will – and a small blurb at the end of each story will tell you which volumes to find them in, but these particular stories are all exclusive to the FCBD issue. You’re going to want to make sure your retailer orders this one.