This Sunday is Bloomsday, that special time of year when people around the world draw together to celebrate one of the finest works of English literature, Ulysses by James Joyce. Or they try to, anyway.
If you haven’t attempted to read Joyce’s magnum opus before, it can be a little rough going. In honor of the literary holiday, I thought I’d list six Joyce-themed comics you can read on Sunday in addition to (or, if you must, in place of) Ulysses. You wouldn’t think there could possibly be that many Joycean comics available to the casual reader but I assure it’s so. Steady on, stately, plump Buck Mulligan!
1. Boom Boom #2 by David Lasky: Lasky has done enough Joyce-themed comics to fill at least a thick-sized pamphlet if not an actual book (and really, at some point I need to devote a “Collect This Now!” column to those works). But if you’re looking for just one comic to read this Bloomsday, I would strongly recommend starting here, with the second issue of Lasky’s ’90s-era one-man anthology. In Issue 2, Lasky tells various anecdotes about Joyce during his time writing Ulysses, but his method is both inspired and unique. He apes specific, iconic Lee/Kirby comics, especially Fantastic Four #1, imbuing Joyce’s comparatively mundane life with grandeur and heroism. Even after all these years, it’s still a pretty boss idea. Once you’re done with that comic, consider picking up Lasky’s “Ulysses” minicomic adaptation as well.
Bloomsday is just around the corner, and that reminds us that work is continuing on Rob Berry’s Ulysses Seen, a graphic adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses, luminously illustrated by Berry and Josh Levitas. The adaptation is going in chronological order of Leopold Bloom’s doings on June 16, 1904, rather than in the order of the book, so the fourth chapter of the book, “Calypso,” is the second chapter of the comic. Berry and Levitas follow Bloom around his kitchen and the streets of Dublin as he fixes breakfast, daydreams, picks up a kidney, brings his wife Molly tea and toast … it’s very atmospheric, and captures the visuals of the prose book in a nice way.
An extra bonus is Mike Barsanti and Janine Utell’s Reader’s Guide, which explains the more arcane references and points out the inspirations for the art. Rob tells me that there is new material about to debut on the webcomic site, and the Calypso chapter will be up on the iPad in time for Bloomsday. (You may remember there was a bit of controversy about the first chapter, Telemachus; Apple has since rethought its policy, and Ulysses Seen will make it to the iPad intact.)
It has been quite an odyssey, so to speak, for Rob Berry, Mike Barsanti, Josh Levitas and Chad Rutkowski, the partners in Throwaway Horse and the creators, in one sense or another, of the webcomic Ulysses “Seen.” Berry and Levitas started out doing a fairly straightfoward adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses, with extensive notes and translations by Mike Barsanti just a click away from each page. Then the iTunes store picked up their comic for the iPad, but Apple asked them to censor some of the content (ironic, in light of the novel’s history) and then reversed itself after the issue drew public attention. And now the creators are closing the circle by bringing the comic into print: They have signed a deal with independent publisher Atlas & Co. to bring out a print edition of Ulysses “Seen,” which will hopefully be on bookstores shelves by BloomsDay (June 16) 2011.
I talked to Berry, Atlas and Rutkowski about the new project and the challenges involved in bringing an interactive webcomic into print.