The following review was written for the Mark Twain Forum by Dave Thomson.
_Graphic Classics: Mark Twain_. Edited by Tom Pomplun. Eureka Productions,
2004. Pp. 144, black & white, 4 color cover. 7 x 10". Paperback. $9.95.
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Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by
Copyright © 2004 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
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_Graphic Classics: Mark Twain_ is Volume 8 of a series presented in the
style of the "graphic novel" published by Eureka Productions. Other authors
featured in this series include Edgar Allan Poe, H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan
Doyle, Jack London, Ambrose Bierce and Bram Stoker. Fifteen of Twain's
works have been adapted and illustrated by twenty-five different artists.
These artists work in a black and white style of illustration aimed at a
more mature audience than color comic books for younger readers. In fact,
some of the visual humor or sight gags employed in this collection may go
unrecognized by all but the most veteran comic strip aficionados.
The front cover features a painting in color by George Sellas and revisits
the doppelganger premise of Will Vinton's 1985 claymation film "The
Adventures of Mark Twain." A healthy old Mark Twain sits in the foreground
as a shabby and dissipated-looking apparition of his dwarf conscience
enters the room. The cover is an alternate illustration for the "Carnival
of Crime in Connecticut" which is the final story in this collection.
There is a great variety of artistic styles from traditional to modern and
while some strive for a period flavor, others incorporate some contemporary
anachronisms presumably to emphasize the timelessness of Clemens's
storytelling. The adaptations are serviceable and in some cases the
original text is used and simply illustrated. Clemens himself appears in
six of these pastiches and while no images of Clemens are presented in
straight portraiture, his appearance seldom corresponds with his age during
the year that he wrote a given story.
First up is an excerpt from Twain's 70th Birthday address illustrated with
a drawing by Mark Dancey of Clemens as a sort of High Llama sitting in his
rocker upon a Himalayan peak.
A thirty-six page adaptation of _The Mysterious Stranger_ by Rick Geary
from Albert Bigelow Paine's 1916 version of the story presents the
characters looking as though they either stepped off some primitively drawn
playing cards or are supposed to represent simplistic chessmen. Geary
incorporates some vignettes of violence and damnation from the
illustrations of Gustave Dore but they only serve to show how modest the
rest of the graphics in this treatment are.
Milton Knight draws "How the Author was Sold at Newark" (1872) with a bold
pen and ink line reminiscent of Walt Kelly's "Pogo" and puts Clemens
through some extreme Warner Brothers style animation poses as he
fruitlessly tries to get a rise out of a man in a lecture audience who,
unknown to him, is deaf, dumb and blind.
Kevin Atkinson's rendering of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras
County" (1865) is executed in the tradition of classic comic book art.
Compulsive gambler Jim Smiley is depicted as a strapping, broad shouldered
type with waxed mustachios.
"The Legend of Sagenfeld" (1882) is abridged by Tom Pomplun and illustrated
by Evert Geradts with four nicely designed and playful 1950s deco-style
illustrations which take a tale set in old Germany and sets it in an
oriental _Arabian Nights_ milieu. A variation in full color of one of these
grayscale illustrations is reproduced on the back cover of this book.
"Ode to Stephen Dowling Botts Dec'd" from _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_
(1884) is illustrated with six cartoons by Jackie Smith which evoke the
early antics of _Mad Magazine_ and suggests that young Stephen may have
been abusing drugs since pills and a syringe are falling down the well with
Dan E. Burr utilizes an engraving style to illustrate a two-page history of
P. T. Barnum's Cardiff Giant hoax written by Tom Pomplun as a "prelude" to
Twain's "A Ghost Story" (1870) in which Anton Emdin evokes the character
design of John Kricfalusi's "Ren and Stimpy" (the bloodshot animated
characters who premiered on the Nickelodeon TV channel in 1991). The ghost
of the Cardiff Giant which inhabits a crumbling plaster replica of itself
in a Broadway museum makes a nocturnal visit to the narrator in his
apartment across the street.
Lance Tooks gives "A Dog's Tale" (1903) a "Family Theatre" theatrical
treatment with graphics representing African American actors using masks
and puppets to tell the bitterly sad story of a heroic dog who rescues its
master's baby, (whose face is a pasted-in photograph of Shirley Temple),
only to have its puppy blinded by a vivisection experiment and then buried
in the garden where the mother pines away at the grave. It's impossible to
be unaffected by the extreme cruelty and pathos of this tale with which
Clemens trounced his readers unmercifully.
Most satisfying in capturing a period flavor is "A Curious Pleasure
Excursion" (1874) designed by William L. Brown with quaint woodcut style
graphics in a four-page broadside layout including multiple font styles to
advertise the attractions on a cosmic voyage aboard Coggia's Comet as a
sort of Jules Verne rocket ship.
The text of "The Undertaker's Chat" (1870) is printed under its alternate
title "A Reminiscence of the Back Settlements" with a stylized pencil
rendering of the garrulous mortician by Lisa K. Weber.
"Is He Living or Is He Dead?" (1893), the story of an artist whose work
becomes popular after he fakes his death receives a curiously chiseled and
jittery ink line rendering which is unified to some extent when artist
Simon Gane filled in between his lines with gray scale values. The original
1898 stage play version of this story _Is He Dead?_ was published by
University of California Press in 2003.
"Advice to Little Girls" (1865) is divided into seven epigrams, each
illustrated in a variety of styles by seven female artists. Florence Cestac
employed a bold editorial cartoon style to punch up the premise of sassing
an old person only after you have been sassed. Kirsten Ulve made a highly
designed graphic of a little girl making a mouth at her teacher. Shary
Flenniken pays homage to the old single panel cartoon showing a little girl
who ignores her mother's advice and sells beer instead of lemonade at her
curbside stand. Toni Pawlowsky created two pop profiles of girls with their
dollies to illustrate the suggestion that the one with the doll stuffed
with sawdust should use discretion when attempting to swap it with the girl
with the china doll. Mary Fleener channels Pablo Picasso while depicting
the multiple agonies of the brother scalded with liquid thrown on him by
his sister. Annie Owens pays homage to Margaret Keane's big-eyed children
with a drawing of a girl who has swindled her little brother out of his
chewing gum. Leslie Reppeteaux drew a rather kinky pen and ink rendering of
a girl looking on in puzzled tolerance at her parents' sadomasochistic
"An Encounter with an Interviewer" (1875) is illustrated by Skip Williamson
with a single pen and ink cartoon of Mark Twain's white hair turning into
an octopus tentacle that encircles his hapless interviewer.
Nicholas Miller renders the full title of "The Facts Concerning the Recent
Carnival of Crime in Connecticut" (1876) in authentic period typefaces and
incorporates character styling reminiscent of Jay Ward's Snidely Whiplash
and Nell Fenwick. Charlie Chaplin as the little tramp and R. F. Outcault's
Yellow Kid ("Hully Gee!") make cameo appearances in this adaptation by
Featuring Twain or his characters in graphic novels or comic books is not a
new concept. As early as 1918 illustrator Clare Victor Dwiggins (who signed
his work "Dwig") began his syndicated daily comic strip "Tom Sawyer and
Huck Finn" by arrangement with "the Estate of Samuel L. Clemens and the
Mark Twain Co." and syndicated by the McClure Company. Dwiggins created
comic situations based on Tom Sawyer and company's world of playing hooky,
fishing, swimming and preoccupation with superstitions. By 1928 Dwig
changed the name of the strip to "School Days" but the boys were no longer
called Tom and Huck and the contract with the Mark Twain estate ended.
During the 1940s Dwig drew _The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_ for the
Ledger Syndicate; it was not a straight adaptation of Twain's novel but
rather a fantasy series in which Injun Joe appeared frequently as the
Between 1941 and 1971 the Gilberton Company published their
twenty-seven-volume monthly comic book series _Classic Comics_ which was
renamed _Classics Illustrated_ in 1947. Twain was among the many celebrated
authors whose works were adapted in comic book form. Most memorably _The
Adventures of Tom Sawyer _ was drawn by Aldo Rubano in 1948 in a robust,
unique style with inventive layout. _Huckleberry Finn_, _Pudd'nhead
Wilson_, _A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court_ and _The Prince and
the Pauper_ were also adapted by _Classics Illustrated_ artists but none
equalled Rubano's work. In 1976 Stan Lee's Marvel comic books published a
version of _Tom Sawyer_ drawn by E. R. Cruz. In 1990 Michael Ploog made a
new adaptation of _Tom Sawyer_ which was published in a revival of
_Classics Illustrated_ by the Berkley Publishing Group and First
This latest treatment of Samuel Clemens in the comic book and graphic novel
genre is a mixed bag of art in terms of style and quality, _Graphic
Classics: Mark Twain_ offers "something for everybody" and depending on
your personal aesthetic taste, you will probably find an artist here whose
style will please you.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dave Thomson, an avid Mark Twain collector, is
co-author of _Hannibal Heritage_, J. Hurley Hagood, Roberta Hagood and Dave
Thomson (Heritage House Publishing, 2003).