The whole megillah
February 19, 2006
Last summer I posted about a new graphic novel, Megillat Esther by JT Waldman. It retells the story recounted in the scroll of Esther, and since I am both a Judaic geek and a fan of good comics, I badly wanted a copy. I bought one a couple of months later, at the Biennial last November. Since I like to read things at appropriate times of year, I decided to save it to read during the wind-up to Purim. Now that we've gotten our belated Tu BiShvat observance out of the way, it's officially the wind-up to Purim, so this afternoon I curled up with the book and devoured it.
I am really impressed with this book. First of all, it's a good graphic novel; each page is striking, the pictures collaborate with the words in a way Scott McCloud would surely applaud, and I would like to spend time contemplating the visual prosody of every page in the book. (The art is also a style that really works for me -- black-and-white, like woodcuts, but elaborate and detailed. Apparently the iconography is largely drawn from Persian art from 600-400 B.C.E.) Secondly, it's a faithful retelling of the original: the whole megillah is in here, in Hebrew and in English. Most often the English words are boxed and the Hebrew calligraphy is woven into the frame, but one way or another, Waldman's respect for the text is clear.
And thirdly, there are these wonderful digressions. Between the acts of the primary drama, there are vignettes, other stories, subplots, fanciful dips into midrash. Oh, and did I mention the part where this is such a topsy-turvy tale that midway through, one has to flip the book over and read it right-to-left like Hebrew text (or, to make a genre-specific analogy, like manga)?
It's possible I am the ideal reader for this book. I've been reading comics voraciously since 1993, when my friend Cynthia plunked a volume of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman into my hands. And regular readers of this blog don't need to be told how much I dig Jewish texts. So putting the two together is pretty much designed to make me bounce around in glee. But I'd argue that if you're a fan of Jewish texts, or a fan of comics, you ought to read this -- if you're not a fan of both before you begin, I'd wager you will be by the time you finish.
Seriously, this book is stunning. I count myself incredibly fortunate to own an original page from Howard Cruse's glorious classic Stuck Rubber Baby; I've got to admit, some part of me is wondering how exorbitant a page from JT Waldman's Megillat Esther might be. Anyway, original artwork aside, buy the book and read it before Purim. And be sure to say the blessing for Torah study before you crack the spine. Even if you think you know the whole megillah, you'll learn something new reading it this way.
Technorati tags: religion, Judaism, Purim, MegillatEsther.