By José Luis del Río Fortich
Beowulf is the longest epic poem in Old English, the language spoken in Anglo-Saxon England before the Norman Conquest. Tolkien himself, who translated the 11th-century poem Beowulf, called the story “laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination”, saying that “the whole thing is sombre, tragic, sinister, curiously real”.
The myth has had many adaptations. Academy Award winner director Robert Zemeckis told the oldest epic tale in the English language with the most modern technology advancing the cinematic forum through the magic of digitally enhanced live action, also with an script based on a text by Neil Gaiman.
The myth begins with Hrothgar, king of the Danes, or Scyldings, builds a great mead-hall, or palace, in which he hopes to feast his liegemen and to give them presents. The joy of king and retainers is, however, of short duration. Grendel, the monster, is seized with hateful jealousy. He cannot brook the sounds of joy that reach him down in his fen-dwelling near the hall. For twelve years he persecutes Hrothgar and his vassals.
Over sea, a day’s voyage off, Beowulf, of the Geats, nephew of Hygelac, king of the Geats, hears of Grendel’s doings and of Hrothgar’s misery. He resolves to crush the fell monster and relieve the aged king. With fourteen chosen companions, he sets sail for Dane-land. Reaching that country, he soon persuades Hrothgar of his ability to help him. Beowulf fights Grendel and kill him but Beowulf must to combat against Grendel´s mother. He also defeat her and become king of the Geats. After he has been ruling for fifty years, his own neighborhood is woefully harried by a fire-spewing dragon. Beowulf determines to kill him.
Now the Spanish team, Santiago García and David Rubín, have united their talent to revisited the myth of Beowulf. They don’t want to transform the myth, García and Rubin faithfully follow the plot and the three-act structure of the original text. It is not intended to be revisionist, postmodern or ironic, but searching in tone and sticking to the facts narrated in the poem, and with full power to convey the epic and melancholic resonance of the verses through the formal resources of contemporary comics.
The outlook is not, then, the genre of sword and sorcery and heroic fantasy, but to rebuild a very old story with a modern look, while respecting the monumental simplicity of the starting material. Thus, Beowulf takes on new life, as if we were first discovering the myth.
The art of David Rubín is full of violence and close to film influences. When someone fights and falls down, our eyes move to the beat of his fall, changing the angle of gaze to be parallel with the eyes of the murdered. So many details impregnate the art, alternating with overwhelming splash pages, that violence and blood become a dance like the height of Peckinpah or Tarantino films. But the book has also been influenced by horror films like Aliens or Predator, because when characterizing the formidable Grendel, the creators have managed to create a fearsome monster. Rubin uses red tones to describe the violence of the myth and close-up perspective like spaghetti westerns to increase the drama. You must simply enjoy the show and glimpse the myth. I think this is David Rubín’s best work yet.
David Rubín was born in 1977 in the city of polar winters and summers of perpetual hell: Ourense. There he studied graphic design at the School of Art Antonio Faílde and soon after launched into work both in the field of comics, and also in animation and illustration. He won a lot of prizes like El Circo del Desaliento and La tetería del Oso Malayo. He has also illustrated collection of stories by Robert Howard about Solomon Kane edited by Astiberri in 2010. Beowulf is his latest work.
Santiago García is a journalist who has translated american comics, like Spider-Man and X-Men, into Spanish. Beowulf is also his latest work.
Beowulf is a 200 page full-color graphic novel available from Astiberri
José Luis del Río Fortich is a child of the seventies who grew up with comics and MSX. Then he moved to the Commodore Amiga, Twin Peaks and finally to Macintosh. In his nearly 40´s he keeps reading comics, playing computer games and reviewing series. He loves Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Zombies, Horror Movies and all those things that are not necessary in an apocalypse but we all love. He is @jldelriofortich and on Facebook.