This has been a big weekend for my pop culture life. I've finally taken the time to sit down to watch my first Studio Ghibli films. I've also finally read Don Quixote.
Yeah, I know, slap a medal on me, whydontcha?
There's a common denominator here, aside from "what the hell took you so long?" and "aren't these works of art amazing." That denominator is how both Cervantes and Miyazaki created material that are thoroughly wonderful and thoroughly accessible. Both My Neighbor Totoro and Don Quixote de la Mancha are really magnificent creations.
Of course it helps my belated discovery of Cervantes that I got to read Don Quixote in a charming new graphic novel adaptation by Rob Davis. Under Davis's smart hand, the story of one history's most memorable lunatics is told in all its slapstick, madcap, earthy glory.
Davis delivers a delightful and surprisingly empathetic adaptation of this classic story that makes its absurdist humor and ridiculous adventures feel as contemporary as the latest outrageous comedy playing at your local movieplex. There's an nearly effortless spirit to Davis's artwork that serves this story really well. Pages look thrown off quickly, until you look more closely to see the level of craftsmanship that Davis brings to the material. His vivid coloring, all flat earth tones and intense contrasts, adds immeasurably to the quality of his Quixote.
The characters of Quixote and Panza are instantly relatable when Davis depicts them on the page.
Quixote is so tall he virtually appears to be wearing stilts as part of his preposterously unmatched suit of armor. His mustache is so wide it seems virtually as large as his face, while Quixote's ego and ignorance are so vast they appear to fill every cell of our protagonist's body. I found it deliriously funny to see all the ignominious adventures in which Quixote finds himself wrapped up. Davis does a wonderful job of presenting his slapstick exploits in a deliriously vivid manner
Sancho Panza, meanwhile, is absurdly fat dolt who generates tremendous empathy in readers with his trusting face as he get beaten up, humiliated, mocked, played and ripped off all through the book. We can't help but empathize with this poor, pathetic wretch of a man at the same time that we're laughing uproariously at him. When he gets caught up in a ridiculous prank from a duke and duchess, who convince Sancho Panza that he's the governor of a landlocked island, the humiliation and absurdity of the Don Quixote adaptation reaches wondrous heights.
The secret to the success of these stories is in Davis's energetically bold, almost animated art style. He's tremendously skilled at creating the essence of a character with just one or two strokes of a brush — his depiction of Maritornes, the freakishly ugly servant girl is smartly clever while his arrogant duke and duchess are perfectly sadistic. This is the art that a classic like Don Quixote needed to bring a mass audience.
If only all new pop culture discoveries were as wonderfully charming as the work of Rob Davis and Hayao Miyazaki!