Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Santiago García
Artist: David Rubín
Release Date: 21st December 2016
Beowulf: the most important pieces of historic Saxon literature known. An epic tale, one loved and translated by Tolkien himself. Yet, I’m ashamed to say my knowledge of the tale stems only from the 2007 movie, of which I wasn’t a fan. Why am I ashamed? In truth, if David Rubin’s name wasn’t attached to this I may have passed it over, and by doing so I’d have missed out on one of my favourite finds of this year. I’m now going to try and find the words to explain why.
First off – if you’re anything like me – you need to forget the movie completely. Banish it from memory, because Ray Winstone’s accent has no place here. All done? Good, let us continue.
Now that I’ve read the story (and done my homework on what Beowulf actually is) it is clear that Santiago García’s script has stayed true to the tale. The book – like the poem – splits into three parts, one for each monster that Beowulf fights. Having the rigidity of that framework has allowed García to fill in the narrative. He knows there are set events in place, but the character flow between the landmarks are of his own design. He has been clever in the dialogue used, it isn’t quite Old English (e.g. ‘I knew him not’), but it skirts along borders of it in the sentence structure. This keeps the story easy to read, but still lends itself to the spirit of the original poem.
By using this narrative device, and keeping classic themes, the script works. People are familiar with the prototypical Nordic traits such as honour, clan warfare and celebratory excess. García has blended these stereotypes into the story to produce a convincing and compelling chronicle. The result makes the experience read more like an original story than a history lesson. Thus he bypasses what some may feel is a stigma, the idea that reading this could feel more like a homework assignment. I can attest that it is, in fact, a genuine pleasure to read.
David Rubin was the name that attracted me to this title. I adored his art when I first encountered it reviewing 2015’s The Fiction. Knowing how good his art was I was excited to see what he did with this material. I had no idea just how superb it would be. I’ll get this over with right now: the art and layout of Beowulf is the best I have seen in 2016. Unquestionably. Rubin has produced something so cohesive, so exceptional, that I have nothing but admiration for it.
It’s actually not easy to convey just what an experience the art of Beowulf is like. David’s style of art is unique as is, and with the bloody nature of this story there is a red film over everything. It’s almost Grindhouse in style, reminiscent of a Quentin Tarantino movie. Look that little bit deeper though and you will find different touches and influences throughout.
There is a definite Saxon influence to the art. The placement of subjects in panels reminds me in places of the Bayeux Tapestry (Google it). Then there is the Monster vision, seeing subjects through the eyes of the Grendel as muscle and sinew: Predator anyone? What is impressive is how he overlaps the ‘monster vision’ with the actual art so we take in the picture from dual perspectives. Not only that, but it doesn’t get ‘gimmicky,’ it actually works within the plot and becomes a narrative tool at the conclusion. It’s a brilliant piece of visual integration.
The panel layout in Beowulf is, I believe, one of the best I have seen in a comic. I’ve been thinking over this, I can’t quite find another comic in which the panelling made such an immediate and lasting impression on my reading experience. Sure, I can rhyme off several titles that upon a reviewers inspection you realise how clever the panelling is. Yet, in Beowulf it’s relentless in just how important and impressive the layout is to the story. It’s in your face instantly and it doesn’t apologise for it (and it shouldn’t).
The rendering of the monster’s themselves is something that I can only describe as 100% David Rubín. They’re fantastic, I’ve noticed before how David uses close focus on the eyes, and he does so here again to great effect. Indeed, there are several double page layouts that I (frustratingly) couldn’t enjoy to the fullest due to the pdf review format, but I can project what they’ll look like and I can’t wait to see them for myself. The first page showing the Grendel, let’s just say it’s going to be something special to behold.
I could go on and on about just how good a reading and visual experience Beowulf is. I should think it’s obvious from what I’ve said just how much I enjoyed the title. Not only enjoyed it, but I am genuinely excited to review it. Don’t be like me; don’t pre-judge this as simply a resurgence of an old tale. Take the time to look at it in your book or comic store, because if you do I’ll guarantee you’ll want to buy it – and you should. If I had not seen David Rubín’s name on this book I may have passed on it, and in doing so would have missed out on both a fantastic visual experience and a clever reimagining of this foundational piece of English literature. Even worse, I’d still be relying on the awful memory of that terrible film.
The writer of this piece was: Andrew McGlinn
Andrew Tweets from @Jockdoom.