Saturday, December 08, 2007


Two graphic novel versions of Beowulf have been nominated for the Cybils.

Beowulf Monster Slayer: A British Legend
story by Paul D. Storrie, pencils and inks by Ron Randall
Graphic Universe/Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.

adapted and illustrated by Gareth Hinds
Candlewick Press

Storrie's version gives the reader a good introduction to the Beowulf legend. True to the Graphic Universe series, it comes with a map on the title page, and a column of background information on the copyright page. At the end of the book, there is a glossary/pronunciation guide, suggestions for further reading, including websites, and an index.

The language used in the story has a slightly formal sound, but is not difficult to understand. There is a good combination of speech bubbles and narrative text boxes that carry the story along. However, for the less able reader, the story holds together if you simply "read" the images.

The Hinds version includes an author's note about the text. The book was originally self-published with a verse translation, but the Candlewick publication used a 1904 translation. This makes for a much more difficult read. The text in the Hinds version is all in text boxes (no speech bubbles), often very awkwardly placed on the illustrations so that text covers characters' faces or key parts of the action. It looks like the book was drawn with no thought of integrating the text into the action. The fight scenes are the strongest pictorial narratives in this version -- they go on for pages without any interruptions of text.

Here are a couple of comparison points for the two books:

Grendel is a hairy beast in both. In Storrie's version, Grendel wears a loin cloth. In Hinds' version, Grendel's private parts are disguised by long serpentine hairs.

In the Storrie version, the first fight with Grendel, in which his arm is pulled off by Beowulf, lasts three pages. In the Hinds version, it goes on for 20 pages.

Grendel's mother is old in both versions. In the Storrie version, she is clothed, and looks like a monster who has aged, but is still a force to be dealt with. In the Hinds version, she has pendulous, old-woman breasts, a gigantic fat belly, and, like Grendel, serpentine pubic hairs. Her face is deeply wrinkled, and she looks like she is definitely past her prime as a monster. She cowers when Beowulf beheads her.

Both books take Beowulf's story through his time as king, his fight with the dragon, and the passing of his leadership to Wiglaf, ending with Beowulf's funeral pyre. In the Storrie version, each phase of Beowulf's life is a chapter. In the Hind's version, the phases are Books One, Two, and Three. Visually, Book Three, the fight with the dragon and the end of Beowulf's life, looks like it does not belong with the rest of the book. It is done in greys and black, the font of the text boxes ranges in size and style with no discernible reason, and the art style is very different from the rest of the book.

In the end of both books, Beowulf is an old man. In Storrie's version, he is old and grey, but with a full head of hair, a neatly trimmed beard, and the same smooth, strong muscles he had as a younger hero. Hinds' version gives us a more realistic view of what an aged superhero might look like. His Beowulf is balding on top with long stringy hair and a spade-length beard, he has a wrinkled, liver-spotted, and warty face, and he has ropey veins sticking out all over the muscles of his arms. He's a wreck, and the fight with the dragon was clearly his last.

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