There’s a comic quality and grounds for parody in even the most classic literature. In Masterpiece Comics, R. Sikoryak proves himself adept at discovering and exploiting these cartoonish characteristics. But while the laughs in his collection are literate, what he parodies are the comics, everything from Peanuts to Superman.
Masterpiece Comics would be a one-joke wonder if it weren’t so clever. Sikoryak has taken works from Shakespeare, Emily Bronte, Oscar Wilde, Franz Kafka and a host of others and fitted them with familiar comic characters (or in the case of Bronte, familiar comic formats). Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne becomes Little Lulu’s mother. Batman becomes Crime and Punishment‘s Raskolnikov. Ziggy is Candide. This, of course, is something different than the Classics Illustrated comics we all suffered when young.
Sikoryak’s method isn’t so much about presenting literary classics in comic form. Instead, he takes comic characters and inserts them into classic literature. So instead of illustrating the Genesis creation as a cartoon (as has Robert Crumb), he’s plopped Dagwood and Blondie into Eden as Mr. Dithers takes on the role of God. There’s no (or little) attempt at quoting or being absolutely true to the original. Dialogue and character traits are drawn with the emphasis on comic content rather than any literary consistency. Past and present high school students who’ve used the Illustrated Classics series as an easy way to bone up on MacBeth or Wuthering Heights would flunk the pop quiz after reading the condensations here.
The casting of comic characters as literary characters (Mary Worth as Lady MacBeth?) is a big part of Masterpiece‘s genius. Little Nemo is a brilliant Dorian Gray and who better to visit Dante’s hell than Bazooka Joe? Sikoryak mixes up his approach, using the Bazooka Bubble Gum, three panel comic for “Inferno Joe,” complete with special offer (“Ice scraper…ideal for when hell freezes over…”) and fortune (“A winged beast will take you for a ride.”) Garfield stands in for Mephistopheles with Jon as Faustus in three-panel comic strip construction. A series of “Action Camus” covers portray Superman in various stages of Camus’ The Stranger (“So much for the harmony of the day!”).The Bronte chapter is told, cover and all, in the style of Tales From the Crypt. Throughout, Sikoryak is true to style and format of the original comics, whether it be Bob Kane’s early Batman orJerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman circa 1942. He adds familiar comic book touches like letters pages and parodies of special offers …”Lit” as “Grit.” Reading these parodies is as much an education in comic history as it is in literature. And the final installment featuring Beavis and Butthead as Estragon and Vladimir from Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, well, we just had to laugh…heh.–Cabbage Rabbit