Graphic novels are as self-referential in their own way as hip hop – everyone from Joe Sacco to Guy Delisle, Seth to Joe Matt include versions of themselves in their work and this is a practice that has gone on for years, since Crumb, since… well, Cervantes if you want to draw a comic line that ties Don Quixote to Rob Davis’ graphic adaptation (and we do because there is a point to be made).
Volume 2 of Don Quixote, as any relatively well read young man or woman will tell you, is a somewhat darker affair than Volume 1 (Volume 1, the graphic version of which was published back in 2011, gave Davis free rein for arguably the most celebrated of Quixote’s adventures – the windmills, the sheep, the chaingang etc) – offering us instead a world in which Don Quixote comes to know (and resent) the fact he is the star of a celebrated comic novel. This is the work that was prompted in part by Cervantes wishing to supplant an unofficial sequel (which is, of course, mentioned in both the book and the graphic adaptation). As such, the way in which Quixote is mocked is far more aggressive – an extended section involving a Duke and Duchess who set Quixote false missions and a parade through the streets of Barcelona are merely two examples of the way in which Cervantes pins pathos with an icepick of cruelty. One imagines Cervantes was as tired of his creation as Conan Doyle – but where Conan Doyle’s attempts to throw cold water on the attraction of his creation failed (making Holmes less human made him more brilliant), Cervante’s brings Quixote low – lower and lower still – and then kills him off. ‘Deranged by books are you?’ he seems to be saying. ‘Then die!’
Whereas Volume 1 benefited from a straight-ish take on proceedings, and despite the presence of Cervantes’ himself, a voice issuing from a prison cell window, Volume 2 would have been boosted by Davis taking a leaf from Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation and his graphic contemporaries – inserting himself into proceedings and having his own struggles adapting the book play a part in the book itself. This would have raised the book from being an interesting, amusing and entertaining adaptation of Don Quixote into something more – I’m thinking of Martin Rowson’s take on Gulliver’s Travels and Tristram Shandy. Undoubtedly Self-Made Hero’s adaptations of classic literature serve a purpose (in an ideal world they should be a gateway drug to classic literature, impressionable young things tearing through graphic novels and then going on to dabble with Conan Doyle and Lovecraft and Kafka and – 0f course – Cervantes) but sometimes one can’t help but feel a little relaxation of the editorial rules might make for better, more enduring, reads.
Any Cop?: A very enjoyable take on Don Quixote and a pleasing refresher if you read the novels themselves a good few years ago. The only caveat is that, Davis’ talent is such, you can glimpse a better book, a bolder, more ambitious read in the spaces between the panels. Maybe next time eh?