Propaganda Fantasy Classics, Hits, Misses and grows on me.
Edited by Tom Pomplun
This is the latest volume in the Graphic Classics series. I looked at the Mark Twain volume in April and to be honest a lot of the comments there could easily be repeated. To summarise: Anthologies are patchy. All of them. The trick of a good anthology is to find the one where the flaws are far outweighed by the more original talent.
Fantasy Classics again sticks to that rule but sadly, doesn’t succeed quite as well as the Mark Twain volume. It starts well, with a nicely told and illustrated prologue to Frankenstein by Rod Lott and Mark A. Nelson called Fantasmagoriana which does just about enough to draw you in towards the major Frankenstein adaptation by Rod Lott and Skot Olsen. This takes up a third of the volume and at first I really didn’t think it was up to the task of leading off the book in this way. But subsequent readings and viewings have changed my mind. What I initially thought to be overly cartoony for the gothic horror tale I now see as quirky and interesting. I think I’d still rather have Bernie Wrightson’s epic Frankenstein viuals, but I like this version in it’s own offbeat way. (The Berni Wrightson Frankenstein is being re-released this autumn in what looks like a gorgeous oversized hardcover).
(Skot Olsen’s visuals for the Frankenstein story; Takes some getting used to, but managed to grow on me to the point where I really quite like this page.)
Lance Tooks‘ adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tale of forbidden love; Rappaccini’s Daughter is just as visually arresting as you’d expect. The story of the mad scientist’s beautiful daughter who so inflames the desire of the young medical student that he forgets his mentor’s warnings of the dangers of the gardens of Rappaccini is a simple tale, well matched to Tooks’ striking black and white illustrations.
But the next tale again misfires. Not this time for the art, but for the source material. The adaptation of Baum’s The Glass Dog can really do nothing with what is no more than a pleasant little second rate fairy tale.
But after all this dissapointment, the book is saved somewhat by the final adaptation. The Dream Quest Of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft, adapted by Ben Avery and illustrated by Leong Wan Kok is by far the best thing in this volume.
(Saving the best until last; Leong Wan Kok’s artwork for a Lovecraft tale that delights rather than frightens.)
The art by Leong Wan Kok steers clear of the usual Lovecraftian tropes; in fact there’s just the single panel featuring the usual flailing tentacles here. But his artwork perfectly suits this most un-Lovecraft of lovecraft’s work. The Dream Quest is just that; Randolph Carter (or Lovecraft himself) dreams three times from afar a glorious city but is snatched into the waking world before he can get closer. He resolves to go to Unknown Kadath, where the Gods live, so he can ask about his city. He dreams his journey and ventures forth into enchanted woods, cities full of cats, he is kidnapped, flown to the moon and back and more. Carter becomes a dreaming adventurer looking for his city of dreams. It’s really well adapted by Ben Avery, and Leong Wan Kok’s artwork is perfect for the tale.
Fantasy Classics just about rescues this one with this last tale. This is always the trouble with anthologies though. It can’t all be great, so where do you put the not so great stories? Do you start strong, end poor or start poor and end with your best? Never an easy choice, although this time I think the right decision was made for when I closed the book I ended it on a high.
Richard Bruton is a lifelong comics fan and before writing these Propaganda reviews here, was a Comic Book Store Guy; you can read more of his thoughts on comics and life on his blog Fictions.