Written by Alisha Weinberger
Beowulf. The Iliad and the Odyssey. A Tale of Two Cities. All intimidating, massive literary classics forced down a majority of high school eye sockets. Very few can say they’ve read any cover to cover, self included. Yet, their stories are generally known as well as their impact on Western storytelling. So to step up and attempt a retelling through an alternative medium, offering something new, is a pretty hefty feat.
With Image’s re-released English translation of Santiago García and David Rubín’s Beowulf,the creative team slough the terrifying monster that is the pedagogical, draconian English class.
Beowulf is more than just another reinterpretation and retelling of the Danish hero. It is a muscular flexing of the comic medium. Rubín’s page layouts take front and center stage. Sacrificing figural realism for more cartoonish character design, allowing pages to cram sprawling panels of landscape, overlapped with smaller, detailed narrative panels.
There are several striking instances of Rubín’s eye for design, one of which starts right off the bat. Rather than taking several pages to introduce King Hrothgar of the Danes and the monster Grendel, smaller flashback panels of the revelry on the Danes in their mead hall are contrasted atop full pages of Grendel’s brutal, gory aftermath. All drowned in Earth tones, haunting wintery greys with splashes of deep blood (literally) reds.
Garcías’ writing is more directorial than textual. His work speaks through Rubín’s hand. Understandably so, as comic interpretations of classics shouldn’t rehash heavy text, otherwise, just read the original source material. This graphic novel could have been completely wordless and Garcías’ storytelling still would be prominent. The entire book appropriately reads like a medieval tapestry, with long horizontal, open panels. Beowulf should be enjoyed in print, and although a fairly quick read for 102 page graphic novel, it will leave a lot to digest for literary and comic book lovers alike.
Readers who want to delve more into iconic, classical literature but are detoured by the scale of print, should turn to Garcías and Rubín’s Beowulf.Avoid awkwardly CGI early-2000’s film adaptations. Beowulf is not just an exploration of English literature but of comic books too, and will beckon revisiting over the years.