Written by Miguel de Cervantes
Art by Rob Davis
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Martin Amis in his essay Broken Lance (collected in The War Against Cliché) says that: "While clearly an impregnable masterpiece, Don Quixote suffers from one fairly serious flaw – that of outright unreadability."
Now: I'm not the biggest Amis fan in the world (and I much prefer his non-fiction to his fiction): but I've always used that review as a good excuse to not attempt to read Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra's (what a cool name) long since acknowledged masterpiece which - depending who you believe is either the first ever 'true' novel (whatever that means), the "best literary work ever written," the beginnings of post-modernism, the most influential work of literature in the entire Spanish literary canon, the greatest of all books ever, and so on and so on. Or to put it in a way that maybe a comic fan might better understand: Don Quixote is the Watchmen of non-graphic novels in that: it's big, important and massively influentual (but - sadly: no naked blue supermen).
Saying this to my much more esteemed and well-read flat-mate ("well-read" as in: proper books) says that back in Ye Olden Days novels were much more likely to be read out loud so that the whole family could enjoy the same story at the same time (which answers the question - what did people do before television/the internet?). And so: novels weren't really constructed to be read all the way through in one go - but were constructed more like old fashioned sitcoms: you'd meet and fall in love with some collection of characters and then each chapter would be like a new episode and chance to catch up with what was going on. And so: while it'd be pretty tough to watch every episode of Happy Days / Cheers / Friends / whatever one after another after another after another after another (which sounds kinda hellish). Which (along with Amis comment) just gives me more much reason to want to avoid reading the original text - and did I mention that most editions tend to come to around a thousand pages (eek!).
So - yeah - while normally I tend to steer very clear of comic book adaptations of classic texts (especially Shakespeare: I mean - I don't really know much - but I always thought that the point of Shakespeare was the poetic use of language and the best way to experience it (maybe after you've familiarized yourself with the text a bit) was to hear it spoken aloud by actual people: reading it in comic book form then it like trying to take in a painting across a massive canvas by only looking through a pin-hole: it's restrictive, slightly-annoyed and - well - you're not getting the full picture. And to my mind the only thing worse is stuff like Shakespeare's Stories for Young Readers which don't even keep the language - but just tell the outline of the stories! But - whatever - I digress....). The point is: there are so many great comics out there that who the hell wants to read those that are pale imitations of books from canon? Especially when: the point with most of those kind of books isn't the story that you can fit into a comic but rather the cool novel-like things that only the novel can do (which is why adaptation is always a dodgy thing - but whatever whatever): when I saw that there was a Don Quixote comic - all the stuff that usually bothers didn't really seem to apply. For all the reasons I've already said: I don't really think that I would ever sit down and properly read the book - and seeing how it doesn't seem like there's going to be a film of it anytime soon (there's "The Curse of Quixote" - Orson Wells spent 25 trying his best to make a film version and Terry Gilliam had such bad luck that there's a documentary 'Lost in La Mancha' which is a "making of"of a film that didn't actually get made) - I thought that I would give the comic book a go...
And you know what? It's pretty good.
Some of the colouring I found a little off (a good example: take a look at that cover - all pink and blue: I mean it doesn't really make the Don Quixote stand out does it?) and everything has this clumpy, rough touch that I thought was a little - undignified (I wouldn't be too surprised to find out that the whole thing had been drawn in crayon). But then I wasn't really reading it for the art (which does have a few nice points - one highlight was the simple panel where Don Quixote's mind first snaps): all I really wanted was a small taste of this comedy classic that I had heard so much about. And - hey - for a book that's over four hundred years old - it's surprising but also pretty good to report that - you know what? - it's actually still pretty funny, there's lots and lots of really good very sitcom-esque lines ("Nothing cheers a fellow up like the knowledge that his agony will end in death.") and an outlook that as strange as it may be to say - manages to feel somehow - modern.
For anyone else looking for a York Notes style taster of a book that they have no intention of ever trying to read - Don Quixote is very much worth a look.
Links: Forbidden Planet Blog Review, Guardian Review, Self Made Hero: Guest blogger, Rob Davis: Don Quixote: The Self-Made Hero.
Further reading: Habibi, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy Gentleman, Alice in Sunderland. Logicomix, Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book Stories, Pride and Prejudice.
All comments welcome.