Feline Classics/ Canine Classics is what the publishers call a “two-in-one volume.” One half features stories about cats—flip it over and the other half holds stories about dogs.
Full disclosure: I’m not a dog person. I don’t speak dog. Dog owners freak me out, and so when I glanced through the Canine Classics portion of the volume, I just kinda of rolled my eyes. So, this review is mostly about the cat portion.
This collection of short pieces is part of the “Graphic Classics” series of graphic novels put out by Eureka Productions, which all feature mostly canonical—and therefore in the public domain and free to use—stories from famous writers, either excerpted directly, or sometimes “adapted” (rewritten and shortened) and combined with comic art from contemporary artists.
The tone of the volume is set with a poem by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft called, appropriately, “The Cats.” In fact, Feline Classics is also labeled as part of Graphic Classics’ “Halloween Classics” sub-series. Other stories involve witches and fog, talking cats, and talking cat funerals, with words by such other notable writers as poet Carl Sandburg, Ambrose Bierce, and even Conan creator Robert E. Howard.
One highlight, meaning where the text and art really come together to form something new, is “Ancient Sorceries” by Algernon Blackwood, (“adapted” by Alex Burrows) though it’s really the dark moody art by Randy DuBurke that is most powerful. The art, as to be expected in a collected volume like this, varies greatly, all in a good way, and all mostly on the darker side, going with the Halloween theme, though artist Lisa K. Weber’s work really stands out—her visual adaptation of Edward Lear’s classic poem “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat” is a psychedelic cubist trip, fun and funny.
The problem with ‘adapting’ the text of a story, though, is that the text can feel gutted, summarized, turned into a Reader’s Digest version. I found myself, especially in the case of the Robert E. Howard piece, more curious about the original essay it was taken from. The accompanying cartoons of cats are cute and quirky and well done, but t’s not really clear they add anything to the text. It’s almost like the art and text run parallel to each other — not a bad thing, just an awkward reading experience.
Another example: the Lovecraft poem. It works fine by itself, is moody and dark. The accompanying piece of art, juxtaposed next to the poem, by Allen Koszowski, is fine—some scary mean cats at night with bats flying overhead. But that image not really the image evoked when I read the poem, so it is therefore almost a distraction.
So, why adapt? You could argue that contemporary art accompanying classic texts might ultimately turn younger readers (or maybe older too?) on to classic writers and books but, I’m not sure about that, nor am I sure on who the actual audience is for this whole series. Probably younger, pre-teen, readers?
I almost never like movie adaptations of books, and so too with graphic novel adaptations. Something always feels lost in translation. Language is used differently in all three forms—the form determines the type of writing, and forcing the type of writing back into a different form can feel like jamming a square peg in a round hole. Better to have a comic book written specifically with a comic book script by a comic book writer. Just commission new stories—there’s plenty of hungry comics writers out there—and let people read Lovecraft and Howard they way those writers intended their works to be read, as straight-up texts.
In any case, I would have preferred separate volumes for dogs and cats. Surely there are other classic stories and poems that could have been included. Dogpeople and catpeople being how they are, they’re really only going to enjoy one half of this volume. And at $19.95, that’s way too much even if it were just about cats.