The immensely talented Renée Latulippe has created a video featuring her interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee” that incorporates the drawings in my comics adpatation of the poem. I was really impressed with the results, and it made me wish all my poetry comics could be given a similar treatment.
Click on the link below to view other “poetry videos” on Renée’s No Water River website, along with a whole slew of other resources aimed at presenting poetry to children: http://www.nowaterriver.com/
Also included with the video is an interview by Renée with yours truly, which I have copied below:
Julian, who are you, where are you, and how long have you been a doodling fool?
I am an illustrator, comic book artist, graduate student and language instructor living in Montreal, Canada. I have been drawing comics since before I could write. In my earliest stories, featuring Speeder the Struthiomimus (an ostrich-like dinosaur), I would dictate the dialogue to my dad, who would fill in the dialogue balloons I had left blank for him. Until the age of twelve I churned out all kinds of comics on the most disparate subjects, but then when I hit adolescence –and this is one of my great regrets- I gave up drawing comics entirely, and didn’t really begin again until I was in my early twenties. I can’t help wondering sometimes how much more advanced my comics-making skills would be now if I hadn’t had that “lost decade” to catch up on.
As an artist, I am mostly self-taught. I took some studio art classes as an undergrad in university(majoring in Art History), but these had the effect of discouraging my artistic aspirations more than anything else: the focus always tended to be on “conceptual art” practices, which are just so far from everything that I find inspiring about the visual arts. A few years later I took an intensive summer course in “commercial illustration” at a private college, which, in spite of its mercenary orientation, I found to be much more stimulating. Especially as, unlike in the university studio classes, we learned some actual skills… But I guess I am just reiterating the classic complaint of every aspiring comic book artist that has gone through art school.
The idea of poetry comics was new to me when I first stumbled on your blog. Can you tell us a bit about them? When and how did you become interested in creating them? Have your comics been published?
The first person to conceive of the idea of illustrating classic poems in the form of comics was Dave Morice, who began publishing his “Poetry Comics” magazine in 1979. However, I was unaware of Morice’s work when I began creating my own poetry comics in earnest, about five years ago. When I came back to comics in my early twenties, it was with the specific intention of creating a comic book biography of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud. I imagined him as a kind of nonconformist and perverse Tintin, with Paul Verlaine in the role of his absinthe-addled Captain Haddock. So the association of poetry with comics was there from the beginning of my return to drawing. The portion of this biographical comic that I eventually completed included an adaptation of Rimbaud’s poem “Sensations.” A friend of mine suggested I should create more of these poetry comics, and, as I am wont to do with advice, I waited a number of years before finally taking him up on it. Since then, I have adapted poems by Edgar Allan Poe, John Keats, T. S. Eliot, W. B. Yeats, François Villon and Émile Nelligan. Two of my poetry comics have been published: my adaptations of -the medieval French poet- Villon’s “Last Ballad” and of Rimbaud’s “The Drunken Boat.” These were featured respectively in volumes 1 and 2 of The Graphic Canon (Seven Stories Press, 2012), an anthology of graphic adaptations of the classics of world literature. A translation of my adaptation of Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” has been added to the second volume of the French-language version of this anthology, Le Canon Graphique (Éditions Télémaque), which comes out this fall.
What was the first poetry comic you created? Does a poem have to meet certain criteria to merit a poetry comic, or would any poem do?
I actually drew my very first poetry comic around age ten or so. This was a satirical interpretation of “Scots Wha Hae” by Robbie Burns -I was a pretty weird kid- featuring Yerp the crocodile, the protagonist of almost all of my comics at that time. Then many years later there was Rimbaud’s “Sensations,” as I mentioned, and then, four of five years after that, Poe’s “Annabel Lee.”
Generally speaking, I think the poems that work best as comics are the ones that are both somewhat narrative (in the sense that they present a sequence of some kind) and also descriptive, but at the same time, not too narrative, and still somewhat abstract. If a poem is too narrative and too concretely descriptive, the accompanying drawings are likely to seem a bit redundant. On the other hand, if the writing is too abstract and, especially, non-imagistic, then any comic that is derived from it would necessarily bear only a tenuous relationship to the original poem, and probably distract from it.
What medium/process do you use to create your comics?
Conceptually speaking, I just try to capture the imagery that a poem spontaneously evokes in my mind’s eye. Of course, I always fall short of this goal to a greater or lesser degree, but it is a challenge that never ceases to inspire me. As far as the medium goes, I use India ink, a paintbrush, and often a nib pen as well. For “Annabel Lee,” certain effects were created using a sponge.
Clearly, you are also a poetry lover. Is this a lifelong passion? Who are your favorite poets/poems? Do you also write poetry?
I first began to appreciate poetry in my late teens, and my passion has grown steadily since then, to the point that I now find it is the form of art that has the power to move me the most, more so even than music. Mind you, I am speaking only of a certain very limited number of poems by a limited number of authors. Among my favourite poets are Rimbaud, Poe, Keats, Yeats, Eliot, Algernon Swinburne, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dylan Thomas, Charles Baudelaire, and the Italian poets Guido Gozzano and Cesare Pavese.
Once in a blue moon, when the inspiration hits me very hard, I will attempt to write a poem myself. Some of the results can be seen on my website. I also enjoy trying my hand at translating French or Italian poems into English. Especially when one attempts to preserve the original meter and rhyme scheme, it sort of becomes the ultimate word game!
Is your illustration focused primarily on poetry comics, or do you work in other genres and media? Who are your inspirations/favorite artists?
I’m actually taking a break from poetry comics at the moment. I’m working on a couple of collaborative projects (illustrating scripts written by others) and I’ve also begun work on One Hundred Views of An Imaginary City, a picture book for adults that could be conceived of as a kind of cross between Ando Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Views of Edo and Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. When I do return to poetry comics, however, I think my first task will be to finally complete my adaptation of T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
I had the amazing good fortune to spend a great deal of my formative comic-book reading years in Italy, and as a result, most of my favourite comics artists are Italian: Andrea Pazienza, Dino Battaglia, Hugo Pratt, Angelo Stano, Lorenzo Mattotti and Dino Buzzati. I’m also a massive fan of Hergé (of Tintin fame). Other than by cartoonists, I am influenced by many book illustrators, both from the turn-of-the-last-century, such as Aubrey Beardsley, Arthur Rackham, and Edmund Dulac, and from more recent times, such as Brian Froud, Maurice Sendak, Victor Ambrus, and Edward Gorey. Among painters, I love Botticelli, Carpaccio, Da Vinci, Watteau, Odilon Redon, Egon Schiele, Paul Klee, Giorgio De Chirico, Max Ernst, and many, many others. Aside from content, I think the quality I admire most in the visual arts is a certain gracefulness of line, which in the hands of the great masters can occasionally reach the heights of music, and form a kind of melody for the eye.
In one of our early conversations, you mentioned that you judged a children’s poetry competition in Rome, Italy. Can you tell us about that? How did that come about?
Well, last year the Keats-Shelley House in Rome held an exhibition of illustrations of the works of John Keats, from the nineteenth century to the present. The original drawings of my comics adaptation of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” were among the works chosen for inclusion, and I can’t tell you what an honour it was for me to have my illustrations on display in one of the rooms in which Keats spent the last few weeks of his tragically short life. The KSH also asked me to give a talk on the subject of adapting poetry into comics, and since I was to be there at the same time that they were planning on awarding the prizes for a children and young adult’s poetry contest they were organizing, and since I speak English and Italian, the two languages featured in the competition, they asked me to be one of the judges. I agonized quite a bit over my picks, because it occurred to me that winning this sort of contest at such formative ages could have a decisive impact on a young person’s self-perception of his or her poetic abilities. It might even be the catalyst that would lead them to pursue poetry writing throughout their adult life. Consequently, I was looking not only at the intrinsic merits of the works, but also for any hints of future gloriousness. Also because, if it turned out that a future Dante or Petrarch was among those kids, and I didn’t pick their poem, che figura ci farei? How much of a fool would I look like?
How do you fritter away your time when you’re not creating gorgeous things?
At the moment I’m finishing up a master’s thesis in Art History (on the subject of comics, naturally enough). Other than creative pursuits, probably what I like to do best with my free time is to explore the obscure corners and out-of-the-way neighbourhoods of Montreal. Even though I was born in this city, and have lived here for most of my life, it somehow continues to exert an indescribable fascination over me.
Can we come visit you and see other neat stuff you’ve done?
Most of my work is on display on my website, www.julianpeterscomics.com. You can also subscribe to my blog (on the same site), which I try to update every couple of weeks.
Thanks for stopping by, Julian, and for allowing me to use your marvelous “Annabel Lee” comic. Poe would be proud!
I can’t wait to see what you’ve done with it, Renée! And thanks so much for inviting me to take this little stop along the banks of the wonderful and inspiring No Water River.