THOUGHT BUBBLE FORTNIGHT! From Sherlock Holmes to M.R. James to Alice in Wonderland, John Reppion (alongside Leah Moore) has a proven track record in adapting classic literature to comics. Debuting at Thought Bubble, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight teams Reppion with artist M.D. Penman to translate the Arthurian tale to sequential art form in a one-shot offering that proves to be the most sumptuous of feasts for the eyes.
The original story will no doubt be familiar to many but for those who have not encountered it before it recounts a challenge that was delivered to the knights of King Arthur’s Round Table one New Year’s Eve. Interrupting their festivities the giant Green Knight decrees that any one of the knights may strike him the hardest blow they can with his axe on the condition that he may do the same to them in a year and one day’s time. Sir Gawain steps up to do the deed. But having cut off the Green Knight’s head is shocked when his adversary simply picks it up and rides off, promising to see him again at the agreed time.
Honour-bound, Gawain embarks on his quest to the Green Knight’s Green Chapel a year and a day later, encountering many fearsome foes along the way. Near his destination though he is taken in by the mysterious Lord Bertilak and his lady; a stopover in their castle home that will prove to have ominous consequences when Sir Gawain finally does face the terrifying Green Knight…
The sheer sense of graphic design that is on offer in these pages from Penman is simply breath-taking. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a masterclass in employing the visual storytelling devices unique to comics. An early page denoting the passage of time over the course of the following year is an excellent example. Here a dumbstruck Gawain, having realised the enormity of what he has committed himself to, remains frozen and motionless across multiple panels as events progress around him, each panel border denoting the passing of the seasons.
Penman’s sequential storytelling is at its finest here when, perhaps ironically, he rejects the traditional panel-to-panel structure of the page – a sequence where Gawain travels through a dense forest where we observe his journey through the twisting branches and roots of sprawling trees, or a double-page spread (below) where his nightmare inner turmoil while ensconced within Lord Bertilak’s home is portrayed via a winding scroll unravelling through an expanse of malevolent green oppression.
This, then, is a truly stunning piece of illustration, every page inviting the reader to stop and linger on each beautifully rendered individual image. The limited colour palette of reds and greens also serves to emphasise both the idea of two worlds converging and also their adversarial nature. Those colour choices have particular symbolism at story’s end in underlining the concept of the flawed and thus all the more human hero that runs throughout.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is backed up with extensive notes from Reppion on the original story’s origins, form in verse, and interpretations of its meaning. This is one of the finest adaptations of classic literature I have reviewed here – not simply retelling the tale in comics format but actively looking to use the distinctive tools of the medium to highlight its themes and add layers to its subtext. It’s a collaboration that is nothing short of a narrative triumph and an absolute must-buy from M.D. Penman at Table 62 in the ComiXology Originals Hall or at the John Reppion and Leah Moore signings at Thought Bubble.
John Reppion (W), M.D. Penman (A) • Self-published
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Review by Andy Oliver