Monday, May 21, 2012

Poetic Revenge

If you follow my Twitter feed, you might have noticed that I have been tweeting links to a new artist I found online, Australian Gavin Aung Than, who creates Zen Pencils, a series of comics that illustrate inspiring quotes and poetry. 

His work is lovely, and an evening spent reading the archives is time well spent, in my opinion (I've done it twice recently!). I don't think I could possibly pick a favorite (oh, wait, YES I CAN), but I think one of the most stirring and inspiring has been a series that follows one protagonist through three different poems. 

The first is this one: a dramatization of "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley. It's a wonderful poem to start with, but the story that Gav puts with the poem is...stunning. (There's a link at the bottom of the pic for you to see a full-size version. Do that, don't squint.)

Click here to go to the full version. DO IT.

"Invictus" is beautiful no matter what, but Gav puts a face to the poem--literally--and grounds us in a situation that I think everyone can relate to. 

Here's the reason why I love graphic novels and books that use images (like LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES by Laini Taylor)--the graphic adds something to the words. A graphic should not just be a literal interpretation of what is happening. You, the reader, need to gain something more from seeing the picture. You should walk away with the idea that the illustration added a new depth, new understanding, new meaning to the words. This is what Gav does so well. "Invictus" is about fighting, and standing up after being knocked down. Gav's illustration of the poem tells a story within the story. And that, my friends, is brilliant.

Next, Gav took a favorite of mine, Rudyard Kipling's "If," and continued the story started with "Invictus." Not all of Gav's illustrations are linked (in fact, most aren't), but this one is continued through a new poem. And this was the moment when I really sat up and paid attention to the story Gav was telling with his illustrations. He's linked two poems together that have nothing to do with each other--they aren't written by the same person, they aren't written with the same historical background. "Invictus" is about standing up again--"If" is about being the person you should be in a world that encourages cowards. 

And the story Gav tells weaves in and out of these two disparate poems.

Click here to go to the full version. YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO.

Now when I finished "If," I thought Gav's work was done. He'd told a complete story--one of downfall and redemption. There's a whole circle here. 

But there's another poem. 

For the next (last?) in the series, Gav brought in Walt Whitman's "O me! O Life!" You can make and argument that "If" and "Invictus" are linked in theme, if not in background, but you'd be hard pressed to find such a link with Whitman's poem "O me! O Life!" 

But Gav did a brave thing. He illustrates not just the fight and the hero's resolution. He shows the aftermath. It's nice to see the hero rise up; it's lovely to see the reconciliation with the father. But in real life, your story keeps going. And you have to wake up the next day, and learn to live with the choices you've made.

Click here to read the full version. IT IS SO WORTH IT.

It's the last one that brought tears to my eyes (although I'm not really a fan of Whitman). I think the easy interpretation of this poem is one of striving to make worthy art, but I love that Gav took it in a different direction--that learning to live with yourself and to be yourself despite others is contribution enough. 

Like I said before, I highly encourage you to read all of Gav's archives. And buy a print, why don't ya? 

Today's question: what poem or quote most inspires you?
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