Edgar Allan Poe is a writer whose works seem tailor made for the comics page. Poe’s stories set a template for the horror genre that was closely followed by some of the masters of horror comics. His work feels natural in comics form due to its oppressive sense of darkness and a deep sense of mystery. The adaptations of Poe’s work that preserve the original stories’ gothic linguistic timbre and intensely introspective bleakness are often real classics of the comics medium.
The great Reed Crandall drew a number of memorable adaptations of Poe stories in the Warren magazines of the 1960s, and these pieces are some of my all-time favorite comics stories. Crandall’s astonishingly detailed work on “The Cast of Amontillado”, for instance is brilliantly claustrophobic, while Crandall’s take on “The Black Cat” presents one of the most sinister animals in the history of comics.
The only real problem with my loving Crandall’s Poe adaptations so much is that these collaborations stories cast a long shadow over all subsequent adaptations.
So I approached this new collection of Poe adaptations with a mix of excitement and trepidation. I was excited as always to read Poe adaptations by a group of talented cartoonists, but I was also a bit concerned that the artists’ work wouldn’t achieve the levels of excellence that Crandall and his compatriots reached.
I needn’t have worried. Graphic Classics: Edgar Allan Poe presents a memorable set of adaptations that live up to the standards of their predecessors.
Take Pedro Lopez’s adaptation of “The Cask of Amontillado,” for instance. Lopez chooses a very stark style with which to depict this story. His art is stark unornamented black and white, drawn without any use of grays. The somberness of the artwork instills Lopez’s presentation of this story with an intense sense of dread. The panel in which main characters Furtunato and Amontillado face a staircase into the miserable catacombs seems as infused with blackness as a gateway to Hell. As the story proceeds, the blackness seems to get darker and more intense, giving the tale an almost suffocating sense of horror.
Rick Geary’s take on “The Tell-Tale Heart” takes a different tone than Lopez’s story. Geary’s story is drawn in his typically light and airy style, but that style has an ironic and intriguing feel when applied to the gloominess of Poe’s story. Under Geary’s pen, the narrator of the story appears thoroughly callow, self-satisfied and foolish. Geary’s art adds an interesting element of depth to the clever story, removing the need for much of the text of the story through the adept use of smartly-chosen images. When the narrator meets his dreaded fate, a reader almost roots for the protagonist’s downfall.
Another of my favorite stories in this book is Don Dougherty’s take on “William Wilson.” Unlike Lopez with “Amontiallado”, Dougherty chooses to use a style in his story that emphasizes shades of gray. Dougherty suffuses his story with shadowy grays, which serves to reinforce the complex mental state of the narrator of that famous tale.
The longest story in this book is “The Fall of the House of Usher” by the uniquely talented Matt Howarth, and this is the story that works the least well in my eyes. Howarth’s style is just a bit too loose and airy for the story; though his style is intriguing, Howarth’s art just doesn’t have the feeling of mystery and menace that the story really needs to be effective.
I’ve talked about just four of the dozen or so stories included in this book. Other Poe stories adapted in this book include “The Black Cat” by Gerry Alanguilan, “The Raven” by Jeff Bonivert and a breathtaking version of “The Pit and the Pendulum” by Carlo Vergara.
I’ve been a fan of the Graphic Classics books for a long time, and this Poe volume is a real highlight of the series. There’s a bunch of great stuff in here, including most of Poe’s most famous stories. Anyone interested in the work of Edgar Allan Poe will find a lot to enjoy here.