Friday, May 3, 2013

The First Superheroes

George O'Connor

George O'Connor refers to the Olympians--the Greek gods led by Zeus--as "the first superheroes." They may not undergo a Clark Kent–like transformation, but O'Connor portrays them with some very human qualities. Poseidon, for instance, has never quite forgiven Zeus for taking full credit for the demise of their father, Kronos the Titan, "the all-devouring." 

The Greek myths have always fascinated me, from elementary school right through my college thesis (on James Joyce's Ulysses; Poseidon hates Odysseus--another name for Ulysses--for blinding his son, the Cyclops called Polyphemos). I thought I knew a great deal about these stories, but O'Connor prompts us to consider them from a number of perspectives. Poseidon is his fifth in the Olympians series.

The author-artist demonstrates the Olympians' difficult childhood (a father who ate them out of fear they'd cause his demise--they caused it anyway) and their infighting due to jealousies both petty and well-founded. My favorite of his retellings thus far may be Hera, because O'Connor brings to light another side of her; she's so often portrayed as the jealous wife overshadowed by Zeus. O'Connor's take on the 10 labors of Heracles (also known as Hercules) posits that Hera's assignment of them strengthened Heracles's character, to complement his physical prowess. However, with Poseidon, O'Connor's use of the comic book format hits a new level, even by the high standards he'd already established with his first four books. 

Chiefly, in the series of images that chronicle Poseidon's son Theseus entering the labyrinth to face the Minotaur--O'Connor blows open the confines of the book-as-object. O'Connor divides the pages to emulate the labyrinth itself. The first double-page spread shows Theseus tying the red thread (that will help him find his way back) in the upper left-hand corner, a series of horizontal L-shaped panels track his journey, and his first sighting of the Minotaur appears in a vertical panel at the far right of the spread. A turn of the page reveals the eye of the Minotaur (with Theseus reflected there) in the upper left-hand corner, a series of vertical L-shaped panels depicts their struggle across the double-page spread, and, in a vertical panel in the lower right-hand corner, Theseus reaches for his sword, which he'd dropped in the conflict. The next page shows Theseus's climactic victory. It's an achievement in design, pacing and visual storytelling.

O'Connor takes ancient stories we may think we know well and take for granted, and endows them with immediacy and emotion, proving their relevance today. Triumph, defeat, love, jealousy, strength, weakness, joy and sorrow. It's all here, playing out in well-orchestrated panels and full-spread illustrations. Twelve are planned, but perhaps he'll do more? We can only hope. 

The author-artist is not only extremely talented, but generous, too. When I interviewed George O'Connor for School Library Journal's Curriculum Connections, he shared the 5 steps of his creative process, so kids can make their own comics.

No comments:

Post a Comment