This Sunday is Bloomsday, that special time of year when people around the world draw together to celebrate one of the finest works of English literature, Ulysses by James Joyce. Or they try to, anyway.
If you haven’t attempted to read Joyce’s magnum opus before, it can be a little rough going. In honor of the literary holiday, I thought I’d list six Joyce-themed comics you can read on Sunday in addition to (or, if you must, in place of) Ulysses. You wouldn’t think there could possibly be that many Joycean comics available to the casual reader but I assure it’s so. Steady on, stately, plump Buck Mulligan!
1. Boom Boom #2 by David Lasky: Lasky has done enough Joyce-themed comics to fill at least a thick-sized pamphlet if not an actual book (and really, at some point I need to devote a “Collect This Now!” column to those works). But if you’re looking for just one comic to read this Bloomsday, I would strongly recommend starting here, with the second issue of Lasky’s ’90s-era one-man anthology. In Issue 2, Lasky tells various anecdotes about Joyce during his time writing Ulysses, but his method is both inspired and unique. He apes specific, iconic Lee/Kirby comics, especially Fantastic Four #1, imbuing Joyce’s comparatively mundane life with grandeur and heroism. Even after all these years, it’s still a pretty boss idea. Once you’re done with that comic, consider picking up Lasky’s “Ulysses” minicomic adaptation as well.
2. Araby by Ed Choy Moorman/Annie Mok: Ed Choy, now known as Annie Mok, adapted one of the more famous tales in Joyce’s short-story collection, Araby. It’s about a young boy from a poor neighborhood who falls hard for his sister’s friend and attempts to win her love by purchasing a grand gift for her at the local bazaar. Mok does a really nice job adapting this story, giving everything a lovely blue wash. The comic is available for $7 for a print version, or $2 for a digital version.
3. Shade the Changing Man #31-32 by Peter Milligan and Colleen Doran: This one takes a bit of explaining. You see, through a series of misadventures, Shade ends up traveling back in time to 1920s Paris, where he bumps into Joyce and Ernest Hemingway, who are very busy getting drunk. They end up helping Shade battle a childhood nemesis, while in turn grappling with their own demons, which in Hemingway’s case involves some sort of giant, angry bull and in Joyce’s case involves a monstrous priest. Obviously subtlety is not one of the finer points in this comic, and really it’s not one of the better story arcs in the Shade series, despite Dolan’s considerable talents. It does, however, feature Joyce staring at a television set and muttering “Jesus” over and over again. I don’t think these issues have been collected in trade paperback but they are available on comiXology.
4. Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary Talbot and Bryan Talbot: I haven’t actually read this graphic novel yet but it garnered a lot of acclaim last year (the book won the 2012 Costa Biography Award), and Bryan Talbot is a cartoonist always worth reading. Here, Talbot’s wife tells of her childhood, of growing up in a large family and of her father, a renowned but foreboding Joyce scholar, and contrasting it with the story of Joyce’s daughter Lucia, who suffered from schizophrenia and spent most of her life in a mental institution. Some critics have considered Lucia’s eventual breakdown as part of the inspiration for Finnegan’s Wake, so this book is sure to be of interest to even the casual Joyce scholar.
5. Ulysses Seen by Robert Berry and Josh Levitas: Attempting to adapt the entirety of Ulysses into comics is a mad idea, but Berry and Levitas are giving it the old college try. They’re only up to Chapter 4 so far, and have done an admirable job, although it will be interesting to see how they handle some of the more “challenging” (i.e. experimental) sections of the novel. On a side note, webcomic found itself in the middle of a small controversy in 2011 when the creators had to change some of the panels around in order to get the comic available on iTunes. Apple eventually changed its policy, and now you can see naked men (as well as all the other naughty bits coming up in the book) on your iPad.
6. James Joyce: Portrait of a Dubliner by Alfonse Zapico: I haven’t read this comic – a biography of Joyce’s life – yet either, but I really want to, especially considering it details Joyce’s initial romance with his later wife Nora Barnacle, which, judging by his love letters, got pretty hot and heavy (that last link isn’t safe for work by the way). Sadly, while the book has been translated into English (Zapico is from Spain) it’s only available in the U.K. Some enterprising American publisher needs to remedy this problem and quickly.
Finally, if none of the above reading options suit you, there’s always this strip.