Mini Review: P. Craig Russell's The Ring of the Nibelung

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday, 16 June 2013 | 4:53:00 am

"The comic-book artist P. Craig Russell sees the "Ring" as a crucial evolutionary step in the development of superheroes as we know them today. "I think it's a continuum -- from Ulysses to Wotan to Superman,"  LA Times: 2011

"Russell, whose recent credits include "Hellboy" and "Coraline," penned his own comic-book version of the "Ring," a two-volume series published in 2002 by Dark Horse Comics that he considers the most personal project of his career. An opera fan, he has even spoken to gatherings of so-called Ring Nuts, extreme fans of the "Ring" cycle. "It's almost like going to a comic book convention -- you see the same faces," LA Times: 2011

Comic books (arguably a poor term anyway, but familiar to most)  are a part of the narrative - or otherwise - arts sadly much maligned outside of the odd "intellectual" who may whisper quietly about their presence among their collections, but keep them well out of sight of prying eyes. Perhaps hidden behind rather attractive editions  of Kant, Voltaire, Shelley, Shakespeare, or Goethe but most likely read as much - if not more.  Now, why this is is another matter and one I have never been able to find adequately answered. In the UK, especially for a certain generation, it seems in part, to be because the word "comic book", is closely associated with publications such as "The Dandy" or "Beano". And indeed, the most hardened "fan" would struggle to find intellectual depth in either (although the odd sociologist or anthropologist might find much about "class status",  "economic power relationships" and the subversion there of) . In the USA things are a tad different but hardly much. Superman, Batman, JLA, Spider-man, etc reign supreme. These are often comic books that seem to contain little more than the most basic narratives of "good over evil", semi pornographic  "super heroes" (Poor old Red Sonja. No matter the feeble justification for her "bikini") and simplified heroic journeys (although again, there seems to be little narrative fiction that contains much else - despite how much some would like to hid it.). And again there is some truth in this "stereotype" with the number of artists and writers writing in the mainstream genre who are willing or indeed able to subvert it being small (Grant Morrison, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Pat Mills, Garth Ennis, Dwayne McDuffie etc being a few of the exceptions).

Outside, of the "mainstream" however things are far different - even if some of these artists also work within it. P. Craig Russell' could not be described as a "subversive" in the same style as Morrison or Moore and neither is he an artist who uses the art form to explore ideas in the various ways that Art Spiegelman, Bryan Talbot or Marjane Satrapi might. However, one of the things that he has done, is to transfer some of the worlds greatest "operas" into lucid, well conceived "comics" - an unusual and welcome merging of art forms. Starting with Parsifal in 1979 he went on to produce many more opera adaptations including:  Pelléas & Mélisande (the best visual representation of this opera in my opinion and his greatest work in his opera series), Salome and seemed to complete his "opera" graphic novels with what he considered his life long project; The Ring of the Nibelung.

Originally released as a monthly series by "Dark Horse Comics" between 2000 and 2001, the series can now be found in a two volume paperback set.  Art work by Russell, coloured  by his longtime collaborator Lovern Kindzierski,  Wagner's "libretto" was fairly faithfully (given the very different medium) translated and adapted by Patrick Mason.

Given that as much, is  taking place in Wagner's music as in the text (if not more and sometimes in opposition to that text) transposing this work to a purely "silent" medium should have been nearly impossible but somehow Russell does mange to do this far better than might be expected. How? In a number of ways that are difficult to describe, but involve his use of "silent" panels as much as framing and page layout.  Being given a generous amount of space to allow him all of the narrative space he needs, helps greatly -  as does Kindzierski's careful use of his color palette (and knowing when to restrain it).

Even those that have no interest in graphic novels as an art form but who do have an interest in Wagner's longest, and possibly most popular work should find much to enjoy. 

P. Craig Russell's official Webpage can be found here