I have to admit that I’m becoming a little tired of movie CGI, particularly when used with motion capture to portray fake humans; so I haven’t bothered to see the Robert Zemeckis Hollywoodization of the classic Northern European epic poem Beowulf.
Apparently millions of people who just fine with movies full of fake actors, probably inured to the effect from watching hundreds of hours of low resolution fake people in video games, have made the movie a hit. Of course every action/adventure movie of a certain stripe and degree of success has to spawn a movie adaptation in comic book form, and Hollywood’s Beowulf is no exception. These are usually imbued with all of the imagination and visual excitement of the legal contract on which they’re based. I took a cursory glance at the one on the comic shop shelves last week and didn’t see anything to immediately change my mind.
I was reminded however, that I had seen a gripping, well drawn, imaginative and worthwhile retelling of the original Beowulf story in graphic novel form a few years ago (and regular readers will notice I’m using the term “graphic novel” here without my usual complaint about its common misuse).
Gareth Hinds is a gaming concept artist and comic book artist who I had the pleasure of meeting at a Small Press Expo in Maryland several years ago where I was promoting my own graphic story.
Hinds took on the Beowulf story before it was fashionable, and gave it his own unique touch. In addition to his personal vision of the tale (which is pretty quirky as mythical legend type stories go), Hinds took a unique graphic approach, dividing the story into three sections, and approaching each with a different style and set of materials.
For the first he worked in pen and brush and ink, then scanned the pages and colored them digitally. The second was drawn and painted on wood panels with technical pen, watercolor, acrylic and colored pencil. The third section, like the first, was drawn in pen, brush and ink, but then colored using Dr. Martins dyes (long a favorite for comic book coloring before the process moved to digital), with touches of white chalk. (Images at left, top to bottom, show a page from each section.)
The story was originally self-published in three volumes, which Hinds re-published in one volume as The Collected Beowulf. It was later republished by Candlewick Press as simply Beowulf. I’ve given Amazon links here, but you can also purchase either version directly from Hinds’ site (sorry, unintentional pun).
Hinds’ web site also showcases his latest, even more ambitious literary adaptation into graphic novel form, King Lear, in which he is again experimenting with materials and techniques. His Lear will be followed next Spring by The Merchant of Venice.
You can also find some of his shorter published comics as well as links to Deus Ex Machina, his experimental online comic. It was one of the early ones, appearing on the web in 1997. You can still read that story on the site in its entirety.
There is an interview with Hinds from Sequential Tart from 2000, in which he talks about the creation of his Beowulf graphic novel.
So if you want a graphic story version of the classic Beowulf tale that hasn’t been filtered through Hollywood’s hyperkinetic, star obsessed lens (a CGI generated Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s mother? Excuse me?), try Hinds’ unique and original vision.