The Vernacular has a cartoonist crush on R. SIKORYAK

Boston Book Fest: R. Sikoryak

The Vernacular    |    Bridget    |    October 26, 2009

I’ve decided I have a new cartoonist crush: R. Sikoryak. His latest book is Masterpiece Comics, which is, in the parlance of the modern DJ, a mashup of classic comics and even classic-ier literature. What happens when Blondie eats the Fruit of Knowledge? When Bazooka Joe enters Dante’s Inferno? When Charlie Brown awakes to find himself transformed into a gigantic insect?

Truth Justice, and the American Way? Not likely.

Sikoryak spoke at the Boston Book Fest this weekend, an entertaining panel that included neo-noir author Paul Tremblay and McSweeney’s fiction award winner Jessica Anthony (both of whose books I hope to read eventually, though they are not the subject of this post).

I admit, I was initially dubious of the concept when I read about it on one of my favorite blogs, the Comics Curmudgeon. “Isn’t this just Classics Illustrated all over again?” I asked myself.

No. Not at all. Rather than attempt purely to adapt a novel or story into comics form, Sikoryak is attempting something different here, and not simply parody either. As Sikoryak explained, he is drawn to big ‘Why are we here?’ kinds of questions—such as those considered in major works of literature—but then subverts those ideas by putting them into comics form.

The result is a quirky combination of cartoons and literature that seem shockingly congruent with one another (particularly with the addition of the cartoonist’s explanatory comments, offered in the form of a comic book’s letter page). There’s the ironic juxtaposition of oppositional ideas, such as the heroic and the existentialist in Action Camus. But just as often, there is simply an alignment of similar themes played out in multiple genres, approached from alternate angles.

Charlie Brown is feeling Kafkaesque today.
Even more amazing is Sikoryak’s chameleonic ability to represent a wide variety of cartoonists’ styles, ranging from the bold, simple lines of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts to the eerie, heavily-inked art of 50’s horror comics. The greater challenge, Sikoryak said at the Book Fest, was not just adopting the drawing style, but also the rhythms of each comic style into his narrative. At a glance, the strip could be Peanuts, with Charlie Brown’s predictable self-loathing and an excellent cameo from Snoopy. And yet, it remains just as faithful to Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis.”

Some of the comics included in this collection may be a bit mystifying to those not lacking the well-read chops of the cartoonist. For example, the Ziggy-Candide mashup would have made more sense to me if I knew more than the barest minimum about Voltaire (it is perhaps a sad state of my writerhood that I am far more versed in comic strips than in literature). Fortunately, even Sikoryak admits the trouble inherent in making assumptions of his readers, asking the crowd, “Are you familiar with Ziggy? He’s less read than Voltaire these days, but then maybe they’re on an even keel.”

R. Sikoryak demonstrates the importance of not only the classic works that he’s parodying, but also the cartoon forms in which he’s depicting them and what each has to say about our lives and societies. Clearly, we should continue to read them both.

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