It makes sense that American author Edgar Allan Poe would have been the first writer to receive a “Graphic Classics” collection. His fiction has inspired a vast amount of adaptations over the years, including prior comics art retellings — so many that one suspects a sizable majority are more familiar with the adaptations than they are the prose original originals. To a certain extent, this is understandable: Poe’s voice — for all that he helped to kick-start genres like the formal detective story — was very much a 19th century one. I remember it being fairly daunting myself when I first tried tackling it in the fifth grade, though once you got to the good grisly stuff, the effort seemed worth it.
“Graphic Classics” editor Tom Pomplun has returned to this most fertile of storytellers for the 21st volume in his still strong trade paperback series. Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery (Eureka Productions) contains ten of Poe’s short stories plus a smattering of poems. The tales run from the familiar (as with “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” a work which provided a template for the detective yarn; “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Masque of the Red Death”) to the obscure (darkly comic “King Pest,” “Berenice,” and “The Man of the Crowd” among them). Editor Pomplun and his collaborators all strive to remain true to the author’s distinct narrative style, and, in general, they succeed.
Highlights in this collection of gothic treats include Pomplun and Nelson Evergreen’s “Berenice,” which takes a potentially ludicrous concept (haunted by the image of a dead love’s teeth!) and invests it with a convincing level of dread; Antonella Caputa and Anton Emdin’s version of the bleakly comic “King Pest,” which benefits from its Punk! magazine cartooning; and Ron Sutton’s modernized version of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” which reconfigures its mad narrator as a girl punk. (Hey, if Lisa Simpson can hear “the beating of his hideous heart," so can our mohawked anti-heroine.) Almost as strong are Pomplun and Michael Manning’s “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” and Ron Lott and Lisa K. Weber’s “Hop Frog,” both of which faithfully reconstruct their stories without quite attaining their full level of horror.