Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Beowulf The Graphic Novel!

Beowulf is one of those pieces of classic literature to speaks to my fanboy heart. Not unlike the mythology of the Greeks and Romans, or the Nordic sagas, we have a story which bonds reality with myth in a way which makes it immediate and potent. The poem serves a lot of masters but at its core it's the story of a noble man who wants to defend people from predators and who wants to make the society better.

The story has not been adapted to comics all that many times. Classics Illustrated never touched it (to my knowledge) and other publishers seemed equally disinterested. Charlton did have Thane of Bagarth from the back pages of Charlton's Hercules series which is set after the events of the poem  and DC did publish a short series called Beowulf Dragon Slayer as part of its mid-70's fantasy push. But the first time  I ever chanced across the poem itself being adapted to comics was when Jerry Bingham produced it for First Comics as their initial graphic novel in 1984.

I've never been completely satisfied with the result. To be fair, I'm not a huge Jerry Bingham fan, always considering him a workmanlike talent who was able to produce pages which successfully evoked both Neal Adams and John Buscema without the immediacy or drama of either. Still he was above average by any measure. It turns out Beowulf was a labor of love, produced by Bingham pretty much on spec and finding a home at First Comics when he bargained to draw some of their books for them.

Bingham discussed the "graphic novel" several years ago on his blog here. He discusses how he came to be aware of the poem and how he finally was able to bring this remarkable work to fruition. He also discusses some of it weaknesses, weaknesses I agree make it less than a work which was completely successful. To my mind it lacks the grit and necessary darkness of the poem, allowing superhero tropes to overwhelm a story which is at its core a horror tale.You can also see some of the artwork from the series.

But whatever the deficiencies might have been to my mind, Jerry Bingham was able to bring Beowulf to the page and then bring it to the newsstands and that's no mean accomplishment. I congratulate him and wish him well. He seems to have done well for himself outside the world of comics and for a guy who I considered a middle of the road talent has become quite a compelling painter. But when the name Jerry Bingham comes up for this comics fan, the first thing I will think of is Beowulf.

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1 comment:

  1. I remember liking the artwork on DC’s Beowulf Dragon Slayer (Ricardo Villamonte), although I missed a few of the issues and can’t remember today what the storyline was even about…Years later I did get the opportunity to read the original poem Beowulf (Epic of Gilgamesh too, now that I think about it) when helping my daughter with a paper for high school English class…


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