A Graphic NovelGraphic Novel - 2010
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Graphic novel adaptations of works initially published as text-only books tend to polarize in terms of quality. When they’re well done, the illustrations add something to the reading and open up shades of meaning or characters not immediately apparent in the text. When they’re poorly done, the illustrations can nail down a fluid text to one simplistic reading and limit the reader’s imagination. It’s a risk, and this is a particularly large risk to take with a poem, particularly one like Ginsberg’s *Howl*.
Artist Eric Drooker – who also animated portions of the film version – has done a fantastic job with a very daunting task. The illustrations are visually stunning, using sparing, searing flashes of light to illuminate Ginsberg’s grimy critique of mid-20th century American culture and its transformation of essential human value into fungible human capital. When City Lights Bookstore owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti attempted to publish *Howl* in 1956, it was initially banned for obscenity, so it’s no surprise that the graphic novel contains illustrations some parents may deem unsuitable for children. However, even the illustrations of Howl’s more controversial elements are rendered beautifully, in keeping with the poem’s drive to reconsecrate the things mid-century American culture sought to hide, pathologize or sell. Ultimately, Drooker’s frightening dreamscapes update *Howl*’s references and highlight the poem’s continuing relevance. For readers who’ve been curious about graphic novels but are worried they’ll be too light, *Howl* provides a soothingly literary foray into the genre. And, because Drooker has done such a fine job capturing the spirit of Ginsberg’s poem in images, *Howl: A Graphic Novel* is also highly recommended to anyone with an interest in beat culture.
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