Classics and Comics

Classics and Comics

Classics and Comics

Classics and Comics


Since at least 1939, when daily-strip caveman Alley Oop time-traveled to the Trojan War, comics have been drawing (on) material from Greek and Roman myth, literature and history. At times the connection is cosmetic-as perhaps with Wonder Woman's Amazonian heritage-and at times it is almost irrelevant-as with Hercules' starfaring adventures in the 1982 Marvel miniseries. But all of these make implicit or explicit claims about the place of classics in modern literary culture.

Classics and Comicsis the first book to explore the engagement of classics with the epitome of modern popular literature, the comic book. The volume collects sixteen articles, all specially commissioned for this volume, that look at how classical content is deployed in comics and reconfigured for a modern audience. It opens with a detailed historical introduction surveying the role of classical material in comics since the 1930s. Subsequent chapters cover a broad range of topics, including the incorporation of modern theories of myth into the creation and interpretation of comic books, the appropriation of characters from classical literature and myth, and the reconfiguration of motif into a modern literary medium. Among the well-known comics considered in the collection are Frank Miller's300and Sin City, DC Comics' Wonder Woman, Jack Kirby's The Eternals, Neil Gaiman's Sandman, and examples of Japanese manga. The volume also includes an original 12-page "comics-essay," drawn and written by Eisner Award-winning Eric Shanower, creator of the graphic novel series Age of Bronze.



The helmeted gladiator swings his blade across the comic book cover, forcing Daredevil, “The Man Without Fear,” to dive beneath the arc carved by the sword (figure 0.1). The contrasting trajectories in David Mazuchelli’s image suggest opposite movements: Thegladius overlaps the title logo and seems to leap out at the viewer; the blind hero, Daredevil, is about to enter into a shoulder roll and seems clearly outclassed by his foe. The simplicity of this cover and its evocation of Roman themes stand out. The story, “Warriors” (Daredevil 226, January 1986) was cowritten by Frank Miller and Denny O’Neill, both important names in American comics. Miller was to revolutionize American comics in 1986 by focusing on more adult-oriented themes, and O’Neill had introduced important mature themes to Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Batman in the 1970s. The Daredevil story should have been better than it was, then, and part of the disappointment for the aspiring classicist was that the Gladiator was not an ancient Roman at all but was Melvin Potter, a villain who owned a costume shop in New York City (and who had in fact been introduced twenty years before, in Daredevil 18, July 1966). A popular classical model was being used to sell a superhero comic, and even though the connection was not quite as integrated as we might have wanted, here was an intersection of the ancient world and modern comics.

Classics and comics:In this volume, we document many of the ways that the two have intersected. Like cinema, comics are a medium that developed and flourished in the twentieth century. Unlike cinema, however, comics have always languished in pejorative associations of low culture, categorized with or as pulp fiction. These implications of para- or sub-literary value stem from the medium’s origins in American newspapers, where comics were printed to increase circulation among European immigrants with limited literacy in the English language. Later associations with juvenile delinquency in the popular psychiatry of the 1940s and 1950s galvanized comics’ low position in public esteem. Labels such as “graphic novel” or “sequential art” have been applied in recent decades by creators and fans alike to connote a more mature medium, and yet no concrete distinction—whether in content or in form—can be made between these terms and the more traditional label, “comics.” For our purposes, the popular appeal of comics, so disturbing to critics of high culture, presents an opportunity. In terms of the history of the reception of the ancient world, comics represent an important and underexplored corpus . . .

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