Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"The Divine Comedy" gets a graphic novel -- and a video game




Bowler hats, tommy guns, and spats: illustrator Seymour Chwast's updated Dante's Divine Comedy: A Graphic Adaptation looks like a 1930s Hollywood detective movie, telegraphing Dante's ultimately hopeful message in cinematic black-and-white. If Chwast's version of the Divine Comedy begs no comparison to the art of illustrator Gustave Doré, well, it's a safe bet the 19th century engraver never imagined Dante as a Dashiell Hammett character, either.

Chwast's first graphic novel is full of innovative and clever images, although high-school Miss Grundys may wail at the simplified story. "Captain" Charon's lake is now a neon-lit chasm he zooms across in a speedboat and floozies of Florence lounge in cocktail dresses. The damned wear Yale varsity sweaters. Dante still searches for the truth with the poet Virgil, now as his guide in a tuxedo and bowler.

Some things, however, stay true to the original: for most readers, as well as the artists that have illustrated the Comedy over centuries, the torments of Hell are still more thrilling to depict than the transcendence of Heaven -- and for Chwast make for much wittier visuals.


Not to be trumped by mere words and pictures on a page, Electronic Arts has developed a videogame of Dante's Inferno that ratchets up the action to make Dante a fallen crusader swaggering his way through hell, battling Satan himself for the love of Beatrice.

"He fundamentally mapped hell with this poem," says Jonathan Knight, the game's executive producer. "He's created a visual topography, and there's a tremendous amount of structure, geography, weather — and monsters."


A graphic novel and a videogame based on the work of a 14th-century visionary seem a victory of sorts for the image of fearless and swashbuckling hero-poets, if not for truth in literature. It's unlikely there'll be corresponding releases for Purgatory or Heaven -- spiritual redemption is less exciting for gamers, presumably. Who knows -- that still leaves the battle for Heaven in Milton's "Paradise Lost" for some enterprising game company to try.

1 comment:

chrischaos said...

divine comedy as a video game was amazing for the 360