by Robert Sikoryak
Drawn & Quarterly
Masterpiece Comics collects together a series of comics by R. Sikoryak that he’s been working on for many years, taking well known literary classics and parodying them mercilessly using some of the most iconic characters and styles to be found in the history of comics.The cover, with it’s literary greats exploding from the page, sums it all up rather well. This is the works of Shakespeare, Voltaire, Marlowe, Dostoyevsky, Bronte and more worked into the form of comic strips from such greats as Schulz, Sprang, McCay and more.
Here are just a few of the delights you’ll find inside:
“Blonde Eve” – Dagwood and Blondie find themselves naked and without shame in the Garden of Eden. At least for a little while.
“Inferno Joe” – Bubblegum wrapper cartoons tell the tale of Dantes famous tour of hell.
“Mephistofield” – Jon Faustus deals with the devil. At his side is a wise cracking demon who looks remarkably cat like.
“The Crypt of Bronte” – Cathy! Heathcliff! An epic melodramatic romance in a ghoulish tale narrated by “The Housekeeper”.
“Dostoevsky Comics” – Raskol becomes an axe wielding masked vigilante to meet crime and mete out the punishment.
“Little Dori in Pictureland” – Little Dori may regret having that picture painted, but he’ll do so in the most exquisitely drawn way.
“Good ol’ Gregor Brown” – Like Snoopy says; “Happiness is a pest-free home”, but tell that to old blockhead hornhead.
And that’s not all, there are more strips, wonderful cover pastiches, mock ads carrying on the parody (Grit sellers become Lit magazine sellers) and even a series of letters pages that explain and expand upon the parodies themselves.
(Three of those perfectly mimicked parodies by Sikoryak; Dick Sprang’s Batman meets Dostoyevsky’s finest, Little Nemo’s fine linework reimagined as Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray and Stanley/Tripp’s Little Lulu in The Scarlet Letter. From Masterpiece Comics by R. Sikoryak, published by Drawn And Quarterly.)
The temptation with Masterpiece Comics is to skim it first, taking in the obvious visual gags. Doing it this way means you still see the book as an incredible example of Sikoryak’s skill and his craft, and visually it’s both stunning and funny in it’s execution. But it also means you may get a slightly hollow initial feel to it – that suspicion that it might just be a very well executed exercise in making something for the sake of making it, rather than with any great meaning behind it.
You’d be completely wrong in thinking this – it’s so much more than just a series of brilliant visual gags – but more on that in a while, first lets just look at the art and the craft….
Sikoryak is an absolute master at mimicking the comic artists he’s chosen to illustrate these classics. And to be honest it’s probably worth the price of admission just for the comedic value of seeing something as familiar as Davis’ Garfield strip reimagined as Marlowes’ Dr Faustus or Schulz’ minimal perfection captured by Sikoryak to parody Kafka’s Metamorphosis. And every single strip here is an uncanny copy of the original’s style, not just in the art itself, but down to it’s composition (the 4 panels of Peanuts, the 3 of Garfield, the intricate tabloid style page of his Windsor McCay) it’s colours, it’s letters and even down to the thickness of inking needed to masterfully copy each and every style to perfection.
And most of the strips, in and of themselves, are funny. Some hilariously so, others just in a smile nicely manner. There are occasional misfires – I found the Brote meets EC tale a slog to be honest – but in any compilation of this sort, there’s bound to be an occasional rough amongst the diamonds.
(Sikoryak takes Garfield, mashes it up with Dr Faustus and comes out with something satirically funny that casts a critical light on both subjects. From Masterpiece Comics by R. Sikoryak, published by Drawn And Quarterly.)
(Ziggy meets Voltaire, another perfect joining of two worlds by Sikoryak. From Masterpiece Comics by R. Sikoryak, published by Drawn And Quarterly.)
(And finally, the sublime reimagining of Kafka with added Peanuts, or Charlie Brown with added cockroaches. From Masterpiece Comics by R. Sikoryak, published by Drawn And Quarterly.)
After that initial comedy packed visual skim through is complete you’ll be well advised to delve into the book once more, this time, taking it on more than just a surface visual level. And here Masterpiece Comics really comes into it’s own. Still funny, but on finer reading, each decision by Sikoryak as to the mashup subjects proves spectacularly well made.
Whether it’s Batman recast as Dostoyevsky’s Raskol – both brooding spirits of vengence, Blondie & Dagwood recast as Eve & Adam – innocents at large in the world, Ziggy as Candiggy, with the blankslate of Ziggy perfectly suited to stand in for Voltaire’s disillusioned Candide, or Beavis & Butthead as Gogo & Didi in Waiting To Go, every comic choice can be seen to share characteristics with the classic it’s parodying. And it’s this careful choice of works to use that really proves just how clever, how incisive, Sikoryak’s work can be.
(Batman and Dostoyevsky, intricately integrated by Sikoryak with Raskol as a lone, masked, vengful vigilante wearing the axe on his chest and dispatching a Joker-esque pawnbroker. Later on we’ll see Comm. Gordon and Robin make appearances, all in keeping with Dostoyevsky’s original. From Masterpiece Comics by R. Sikoryak, published by Drawn And Quarterly.)
Whilst each strip taken alone is a wonderfully executed parody, the whole thing builds up to almost the masterpiece of it’s title. Sikoryak’s carefully chosen protagonists work effortlessly in their new contexts, subtly parodying the originals whilst adding both comedy and extra layers to both the originals and their contemporary comic settings. It’s the ultimate in compare and contrast, a post-modernist mashup critique of both high and low art that adds to both.
So it really does work on every possible level you could wish for. It’s a visually impressive collection of masterful parodies of classic comic art. It’s a funny and insightful series of parodies of classic literature. But it’s also a master craftsman combining the two things to produce something far deeper and insightful than you may have at first suspected.
Masterpiece Comics – well titled indeed.