Spiffing Up the Classics

By Neal Comment

umbrella.jpgPublishers are always happy to give a classic book a makeover and send it back out into the marketplace. Maira Kalman, to take one recent example, has recieved a lot of attention for her work on the new illustrated edition of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style from the Penguin Press (see, at left, her version of “somebody else’s umbrella”). mediabistro.com’s own UnBeige went to see the opera, while Library Journal did an email interview with Kalman in which she describes finding the book at a yard sale and becoming entranced. “When I started reading, I had an immediate and decisive vision of illustrating the book,” she recalls. “It was so funny and smart and eccentric.” Meanwhile, NYT lands its own interview, offering a little more background on the opera (performed last week at the New York Public Library).

Kalman’s paintings are a lot of fun, but the new old book I’m loving the most these days is the Penguin Classics “deluxe edition” of Voltaire’s Candide—or, as Chris Ware calls it, “the satirical scourge of 1759, now in paperback!” Penguin gave Ware, the comics artist who’s made a recent splash with his arrival on the NYT magazine’s funny pages, free rein to play around with the book’s cover, and he begins by creating a mini-comic adaptation of the book’s opening chapters (clicking on the strip below will show you the full illustration):


The fun continues with more mini-comics on the inside flaps, and even sarcastic hand-lettered commentary on the back cover, assuring readers that “Theo Cuffe’s new translation is invaluable for those English-speaking readers who cannot understand French, and the introduction by Michael Wood should prove indispensiable to all schoolchildren who haven’t read the book and are cramming in homeroom before the test.” Penguin plans similar editions of other titles for 2006, with names like Art Spiegelman being mentioned.

(As it happens, Ware’s in town, and he’ll be discussing comics at Symphony Space tonight with artist Charles Burn and graphic designer Chip Kidd. Burns and Ware also chatted on Radio Open Source earlier this week.)