By Miguel De Cervantes, adapted and illustrated by Rob Davis
“Don Quixote, what do you say?
Are we proud, are we brave, or just crazy?
Don quixote, what do you say?
are we shouting at windmills like you?
(Nik Kershaw, Don Quixote 1985)
“Quixotic: Resembling or befitting Don Quixote, extravagantly chivalrous or romantic; visionary, impractical, or impracticable. Impulsive and often rashly unpredictable.”
(Various dictionary definitions)
Chivalrous, romantic, visionary. That covers Rob Davis’ adaptation of Don Quixote really well. There’s certainly a visionary element to the story,and one Davis captures so very well. But he captures the delicious sense of romance even better. Not romance in the hearts and flowers sense, but in the spirit of the romantic genre of writing, that grand time of crusading heroes, of quests, of far off lands. Which of course is the very essence of Cervantes’ Don Quixote.
But the one thing that dictionary definition of quixotic doesn’t cover, the one thing that’s all the way through Don Quixote, both Cervantes’ original and Davis’ graphic novel is the comedy. Lots of it.
(It’s all funny, but it’s that final “quitter” that had me spluttering a coffee. From Rob Davis’ adaptation of DonQuixote, published by SelfMadeHero)
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza – the original double act – Morecombe & Wise, Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, just 300+ years prior. Yet just as funny, maybe moreso. Not in the slapstick, but in the clever, ridiculous wit that pervades Cervantes’ original, and is ever-present in Davis’ cultured remake.
But again, don’t let the “cultured” bit fool you – Don Quixote is a comedy, pure and simple, and Davis’ adaptation brings all that out.
Course, being honest about it – I know jack about the original, bar a basic cultural awareness, what I gathered through this graphic novel, and a little online research along the way. Being honest about it, my first meeting with Cervantes’ famous loon was aurally, through the wonders of Nik Kershaw, as referenced right at the start of this piece. Is that an embarrassing admission? Will Rob Davis use it against me in his promise to include reviewers of his book in the second volume of the graphic novel adaptation?
Anyway, back to the issue at hand – Don Quixote. Everyone knows the story right? Or maybe you’re a little like me, aware but not of detail, just what you’ve gleaned through 80s synthpop tunes?
(Snap! So simple, yet a moment to generate everything that ensues. From Rob Davis’ Don Quixote)
Don Quixote is all about the double act of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Don Quixote being the skinny old gentleman Alonso Quexana, who goes batshit crazy one day and decides (as you do) to become a knight-errant of old, casting around for adventure, and finding it all around, his deranged mind providing fertile ground for all manner of wild imaginings.
Dressed in a rusty suit of armour, complete with cardboard visor, he renames himself Don Quixote, his clapped out horse becomes “Rocinante” and, needing a lady love (all knight-errants need a lady love to be absent from when they are adventuring after all), he fixes upon a simple farm girl he’s seen around the place a few times. She becomes Dulcinea Del Toboso, a complete figment of his over indulgent imagination. And off he goes, questing forth, mistaking windmills for giants and all the rest.
Whilst Sancho Panza is our knight-errant’s loyal rotund squire, promised governorship of an island, yet receiving nothing but disappointment and a share in the beatings his master regularly finds himself receiving.
(That moment….. those windmills. From Don Quixote by Rob Davis)
Each time Don Quixote sets out from his home, he finds some fantastical vision in his path to be bested. Yet his best is never good enough, and the beatings are regular and worrying to those around him; his niece, housekeeper, and friiends the Parish Curate and the local barber – who do their best to look after Don Quixote. Destroying his library doesn’t work, especially when their excuse is that an evil magician has carried it off, something Don Quixote transforms into yet another complex fantasy, another reason to go forth and get yet another beating.
The tale of Don Quixote is one of stories within stories, but Davis’ adaptation had to cut something out, and it’s these stories that receive the most brutal treatment from the adapter’s knife. Yet even then Davis gets to the core of these supplemental tales so well, keeping the themes, the comedy, the farce intact, still manages to make them important and essential to the longer story he’s telling.
The epitome of this being “The Novel of the Curious Impertinent“, forty pages in the original 500 page novel, yet cut down here to barely four. But in those four, Davis captures the essence of a tale of a man putting his wife’s fidelity to the test, contrasting the fantasy of Quixote’s ideas of love with a harsher reality.
(The author interjects, with his skewed version of his own truth, from the confines of his prison cell. From Don Quixote by Rob Davis)
Added to the tale is the ingtegration of Cervantes himself as an integral element; the perennial convict, narrating from his supposed debtor’s prison, popping up again and again, a voice from behind bars, the only caption boxes allowed in the whole tale. By putting the supposed author inside his own work, Davis creates something metafictional beyond that imparted by Cervantes’ original, and adds a layer of extra comedy onto the whole book.
And whilst on the idea of the voice of the book, a mention of Davis’ choice of language. Here Don Quixote’s man out of time nature is emphasised by his words; old fashioned, voluminous, antiquated language spouts forth from this deluded knight errant. Yet those around him speak in modern vernacular, full of slang and colloquialism, all the better to highlight the different world the poor old man inhabits in his own head. A little touch, subtle, yet essential.
So that’s the tone, the theme, the plot discussed, now a mention of Davis’ artwork. To be concise about it – it’s bloody gorgeous. But I’ve long been a fan of his art, since finding it on the revamped 90s Roy Of The Riovers (didn’t know it was him then, written about that here by me, and here by Davis). There’s a roughness in the artwork, through necessity and also through design, as Davis captures the rustic setting of the tale in every panel, every line. But more than anything else, the art is simply lovely.
(So much to draw your attention to: The colours, those glorious, warm colours. The language – contrast the bombast of the old man with the modernity of his hapless squire. Or the very farce of it all – laugh as you see the after effects of yet another beating. From Rob Davis’ Don Quixote)
Davis drenches each page of his beautiful cartooning in lush colour. The simplest way I can describe the look of the book is drenched in heat, day and night, with colours befitting the time of day or night, bold blues, greens, oranges, yellows pervade the artwork, each perfectly fitting the scene Davis is describing.
And thankfully Davis has written copiously and insightfully about both the process of creating Don Quixote and his artwork over at his blog and at the SelfMadeHero site. It was tempting at one point to ditch this review altogether, and tell you to read Davis’ words instead. As it is, now you’ve made it this far, I thank you, and point you in the direction of these posts:
(One final coffee sputtering moment: “Quite so”. From Rob Davis’ Don Quixote)
Don Quixote Volume 1 should be featuring on many of the best of year lists in a few months. I eagerly await Volume 2, where Quixote meets people who have read volume one, published originally ten years after volume one.
Thankfully we wont have to wait a decade but in the meantime, I encourage you all to pick up Volume 1; it’s great book, a book that captures the absurd spirit and the import of the original, yet never forgets the essential part of that work was the comedy. You’ll laugh. You’ll laugh a lot. That’s the important thing in Don Quixote, and it’s something Davis delivers on practically every page.