Penguin Gives Classics an Alt.Comics Makeover

By Neal Comment

Candide was supposed to be a one-off,” Paul Buckley, Penguin’s art director, recalled as we discussed Chris Ware’s deluxe cover for Voltaire’s classic satire. When Ware’s artwork, with its whimsical comic-strip rendition of the opening scenes and hand-lettered jacket copy, hit Buckley’s desk, he was almost afraid to show it to his colleagues. But they loved it so much that he decided to do an entire series with other cartoonists and independent comics artists having a go at a Penguin Classic. The results, which range from Charles Burn’s starkly realistic rendering of a rotting cow’s head for Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle to Roz Chast’s quirky take on Cold Comfort Farm, were on display last night at SoHo’s Morrison Hotel gallery.

sethmeade.jpgAnother one of the artists Buckley contacted after an expensive research trip to local comics shop Forbidden Planet was Seth, seen here discussing his cover for The Portable Dorothy Parker with Parker’s biographer, Marion Meade. He told me that when Penguin called offering the assignment, he thought pairing him up with Parker was a bit obvious, so he asked if they had anything else they’d like him to do—and since they didn’t, he jumped right in. (The Dorothy Parker Society got a much more elaborate story, as well as new of other Seth projects.)

From left: Anders Nilsen, who drew a haunting cover for Hans Christian Andersen; our own Ron Hogan with Heidi MacDonald of comics blog The Beat and PW Comics Week; Penguin publisher Kathryn Court greeting the crowd.