Recently re-released in a new edition with 40 pages of new material, Graphic Classics: Edgar Allan Poe (Eureka Productions) remains one of the top entries in editor Tom Pomplun’s modernized series of Classics Illustrated. That’s not too surprising since Poe has long been a steady source of inspiration for comic book adaptation over the years — not to mention a gateway drug for many young readers into the joys of reading classic literature — and you can imagination a generation of predominately boyish comics artists all chafing at the chance to illustrate their favorite story.
All of the expected tales of murder and madness are here, though none of Poe’s Dupin detective tales are featured, a notable omission since the author is largely credited to inventing the modern mystery tale with “ratiocinative” fictions like “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Still, you can understand the appeal the more gothic entries have for visual artists: it’s much more fun to render the narrator’s guilt-ridden descent into insanity than it is to present the detective’s logical explanation for murderous events. You just know that Rick Geary, responsible for such detail driven graphic novels as The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans, had a ball depicting the narrator’s out-sized PoV in “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
In general, the stories that work best are the ones (like Geary’s) that push the edge of storytelling rather than straightforwardly recounting event. Thus, a tale like “William Wilson,” a doppelganger story told from the evil twin’s perspective, comes across a little flat due to Dan Dougherty’s straightforward illustrations, while a piece like Pedro Lopez’s Alex Toth-inspired “Cask of Amontillado” proves more memorable.
Other highlights include Milton Knight’s engagingly cartoonish adaptation of “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” (the memorable source for a Fellini movie adaptation, too), Matt Howarth’s ”Fall of the House of Usher” (which uses cross-hatching to suitably oppressive effect); Pomplun and Lance Tooks’ take on the more obscure “Imp of the Perverse” and J.B. Bonivert’s new-to-this-edition stylized adaptations of two death meditation poems, “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee.” The latter especially makes these two much-read pieces fresh and mutes the elements of Victorian sentimentality embedded in each poem. Not sure if Poe, that most modern of early American writers, would approve or not, but they work for this 21st-century reader.