Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Howl: A Graphic Novel by Allen Ginsberg and Eric Drooker

It's a howl of rage and despair at the inhumanity of contemporary existence and it's fueled by a deep reservoir of love. Ginsberg's famous poem defeated censorship attempts when it was first published in the mid-1950s and remains as powerful and relevant today as it was then.

I tried reading Howl several times in the past and never got very far, discouraged by the hellish vision and the breathless run-on sentence composition. I'm really grateful for this edition, with Eric Drooker's artwork from the motion picture Howl, published together with the words, because the illustrations made the poem accessible to me. I love it! I'm happy to have jumped onto the bandwagon of Howl's legion of admirers. I've now read it several times and also have read a text-only version just to compare the two. (The graphic novel version appears unchanged from the original.)

My favourite part is the Footnote to Howl at the end, with its belief in the sacred oneness of everything. "Holy, Holy, Holy." [...] "Holy forgiveness! mercy! charity! faith! Holy! Ours! bodies! suffering! magnanimity! Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!"

The illustrations are actually stills from an animation sequence in the film and I was totally impressed by their power. The white typewriter font used throughout is effective against the dark colours of Drooker's art. The repeated motif of Ginsberg's fifties-era typewriter works well as a reminder of the labouring poet, the original print format, and the original time period. Depicting Moloch as a hybrid building/god/bull is suitably frightening. I liked the books stacked into precarious towers and human bodies shifting from flesh to skeletal. Scenes of Ginsberg's lover, Carl Solomon, in a mental hospital are especially poignant.

Next, I want to see the film, which has so far only had a single showing in Edmonton.

Note added June 22, 2011: Yay! I found the film at the library. It is wonderful. The extras at the end include Ginsberg himself reading the poem. 

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