Each week the iFanStaff passes along a tasty drink recipe and an even tastier comic book recommendation. The cocktail (or beer, or wine, or booze) and the comic can both be enjoyed independently, but they have a common theme and when served together they can make for the perfect reading experience.
The establishment of an agreed-upon canon for comics is still a ways off. I think we’d all have plenty of common nominees (Watchmen, A Contract With God, Maus, Fun Home…), but the history of the form is still too fresh for a common canon. The same can’t be said for the literary canon, which stretches back to 1000 BCE, when The Epic of Gilgamesh was written. Debate rages about what precisely the canon is, but there’s more than enough material and history for one to exist.
The Graphic Canon, Vol 1
Edited by Russ Kick
Published by Seven Stories Press
In the first book of the ambitious three-volume Graphic Canon, editor Russ Kick has put together comic adaptations of 55 classic works of literature. Starting with Gilgamesh and running to Choderlos de Laclos’ 1782 Dangerous Liasons, the book holds stories ranging from The Bible to Shakespeare. Many of the stories are abridgements or excerpts, though a satisfying number are complete.
I say “put together” rather than “collected” the adaptations, because about three quarters of the works were commissioned specifically for The Graphic Canon. It’s an encouraging sign, and one that saves the book from some of the problems that other comic adaptations suffer. I’m always wary of adaptations, especially of classics. Too often, they seem like unsubtle grabs for cash – shoddily produced, badly written attempts to sneak classics to reluctant readers. In the case of The Graphic Canon, the stories are adapted by top-tier creators commissioned at the editor’s direction. With little editorial mandate beyond “stay true to the source material,” the styles of art and storytelling vary wildly from piece to piece.
The pieces that weren’t commissioned by Kick for the Canon are, across the board, stellar. Fan’s of Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey will recognize a few stories from Action Philosophers. Candlewick and Bloomsbury’s great adaptations of classics (The Odyssey and Canterbury Tales) make appearances, too. Though it won’t matter to some comic fans, I was thrilled to find a mix of male, female, eastern and western creators among the new and reprinted work.
There’s little point in wasting space talking about 55 stories selected by Kick. They are stories that are true classics – tales that stand up as representative of the human experience centuries or millennia after their creation. Novels, short stories, plays, sonnets, speeches, letters, and journals from every corner of the world appear in the book. While I don’t want to review the stories at risk of repeating myself (“good, classic stories are good and classic, y’all”), I will say that The Graphic Canon is never dry or boring. I sometimes find the language in classics tough to crack, but these contemporary takes are addictively readable. They’re also often bawdy, as any student of classic literature will tell you. If you think of classics as chaste, wait ’til you get to Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, where a character plainly states “we must abstain from dick.”
A welcome addition at the end of the volume is Liz Byer’s “Further Reading,” which recommends the best translations and editions of all the works. It’s a supplementary piece that’s skippable for most, but useful if you’re looking to dig into the source material.
I mentioned that the 500-page book is only volume one, right? Volume Two (out in October) covers the 1800s, and Volume Three (out in November) covers the remaining contemporary canon, ending with Infinite Jest. At the halfway point of 2012,Volume One of The Graphic Canon is among my favorite books of the year. I suspect some of its biggest competition in the race for “best of the year” will the other two volumes.
As for the beer to go with The Graphic Canon, I grappled with the idea of a “brewer’s canon” in my head. Are there beers that have been, to follow the definition above, important and influential in the world of beer? A lot of my favorite IPAs and Imperial Stouts, while stellar beers, are way too modern. Mass produced lagers, while ubiquitous and long-lived, are more like disposable pulp fiction than classic works.
The beer I settled upon, Sierra Nevada’s flagship Pale Ale, is as classic an American craft beer as I can imagine. When Sierra Nevada was established in 1980, it was among the first breweries in the craft brewing revolution; a revolution that continues to this day. Their first beer, a pale ale hopped with Cascade hops, remains their bestselling brew (and, in fact, is the bestselling American pale ale in the country).
The influence of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is remarkable, perhaps rivaled only by the boom of breweries using Ringwood-style yeast here in New England. The Cascade hops used by Sierra give the ale its grapefruit aroma and citrus bite. It’s a flavor instantly recognizable in any American pale, which are mostly hopped with Cascade or other citrus-tinged hops. In the family tree of American Craft beer, Sierra’s Pale Ale is definitely the roots. The beer is also widely available and relatively inexpensive around the country, and so acts as an introductory craft beer for many.
Despite over thirty years on the market and production that has scaled enormously, Sierra’s flagship remains a superlative beer. A golden brewwith a healthy white head, a citrus pale with bready malt, it’s a perfect example of its style. It’s a brew that can be sipped or quaffed, and a bottle (or three) pairs with The Graphic Canon perfectly.
Josh Christie can’t wait for the next two volumes of The Graphic Canon, which promise to collapse his bookshelves. Follow him on Twitter for plenty of talk about beer, books, bookselling, and even comics.
Please obey the law and only drink if you are of age. Drink responsibly and never drink and drive. Buy the comics that make you happy. Smile more.