It has been more years than I care to remember since I last read any Euripides as an A-level student studying Classical Civilisation, so classicist and poet Anne Carson and illustrator Rosanna Bruno’s comics adaptation of The Trojan Women evoked oddly nostalgic feelings on reading. Re-imagining the Greek tragedy in a graphic novella format, it’s published by Bloodaxe Books and sits in both the literary adaptation and the graphic poetry strands of comics storytelling.
For those unfamiliar with the classical Greek playwright, The Trojan Women is Euripides’ tragedy focussing on the aftermath of the Trojan War and its devastating consequences for the women of the city. It follows the stories of the now dethroned Trojan queen Hekabe, her daughter Kassandra, and her daughter-in-law Andromache, whose husband Hektor was killed in the defence of Troy. The play looks at how the conflict changes their lives in irrevocable ways, and at the social impact of warfare on the wider populace.
Kassandra’s destiny is a doom-laden one, finding herself in the hands of the Greek general Agamemnon while Andromache’s similar fate is compounded by the execution of her baby son, brutally killed to avoid the emergence of a figurehead with claims to the throne in the years to come. Hekabe too faces an uncertain future while the women of the city must deal with the deaths of their husbands amid the ruins of Troy.
There’s a certain intellectual snobbery towards comics adaptations of classic literature that fails to understand that they are not a replacement for the original. Nor are they an inferior version in competition with their source material. Rather, what a graphic narrative adaptation provides is a translation to another medium that allows us to see the root text from different perspectives by employing the unique storytelling tools of comics. This, in turn, allows for extra interpretive layers and insights into its themes that we may have otherwise missed or simply not considered.
Carson and Bruno employ a cast of largely dog and bird versions of the play’s characters, making use of that ironic comics convention of giving us anthropomorphic animals that we connect with more intimately despite them being visually one step removed from our own conception of humanity. Carson’s text blends modern idiom with more lyrical language, something echoed in Bruno’s loose and lively art which juxtaposes modern iconography with classical allusion. In the process they bring the thematic heart of the play to the foreground, underlining the loss not just of individual lives but also of a way of life and a culture, and the impact that war has not simply on the vanquished but also on the victors.
The Trojan Women: A Comic uses visual metaphor, inventive panel-to-panel storytelling and the specific narrative tools of comics (particular mention for the effectiveness of the chorus scenes here) together to give us a treatment of the original play that will undoubtedly prove an entry point to the work of Euripides to the uninitiated, but will also allow those familiar with the text to see it through new eyes.
Anne Carson (W), Rosanna Bruno (A) • Bloodaxe Books, £10.99
Review by Andy Oliver