Graphic Novel Riffs on Literary Classics

Graphic Novel Riffs on Literary Classics

Two new graphic novels, “Bea Wolf” and “Mulysses,” are mash-ups many times over. Both use words and images. Both are designed for children and adults. Both borrow elements from famously complicated stories: “Bea Wolf” picks up verbal schemes and plot points from “Beowulf”; “Mulysses” plays on the deadpan humor of “Moby-Dick” and the Cyclops section of the “Odyssey.” But only one of these mash-ups is messy. BEA WOLF (First Second, 208 pp., $19.99, ages 8 to 12) is the saga of a clan of warrior children obsessed with toys, candy, soda, and pandemonium. Vaguely reminiscent of the Rugrats but with big Dora the Explorer's eyes, they wear blanket capes and underwear armor. Their sense of fun seems to derive from “Captain Underpants,” and their greediness from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” They occupy a treehouse called Treeheart (a stand-in for the mead hall Heorot in “Beowulf”) where there's no bedtime and no cleanup. To these kids, every adult is an affront. And the biggest creep of them all (in the role of the monster Grendel) is Mr. Grindle, a hateful hall monitor with glinting oversize glasses, black coattails, and huge teeth: “Mr. Grindle he was called, for his father was Mr. Grindle and his mother was Mrs. Grindle, and that is how names work.” Descended from a long line of “fun-grinders,” he desecrates the treehouse by turning its inhabitants into grown-ups — “adulting” them — then vacuuming the place. The awful aftermath: “Dawn […]

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