Because of its daunting reputation, many readers shy away from James Joyce’s Ulysses, when really the book is not nearly as challenging as some literati would have you believe. It’s funny and poignant and moving, and sure, it’s loaded with so many allusions that you’d have to spend a lifetime sorting them out, but once you get into its rhythm, its voices, it’s actually not that hard to read, and it’s certainly one of the most rewarding books I’ve ever read. One of the key difficulties for readers new to Ulysses is simply penetrating those first few pages, getting a visual for what’s going on with Buck Mulligan and young Stephen. Because Joyce is transposing events, both mythically, religiously, and chronologically, the opening is particularly challenging–especially because Joyce doesn’t explicate these shifts for the reader. There are plenty of aids out there, of course, from Harry Blamires’s The New Bloomsday Book to Joseph Campbell‘s fantastic lectures, and readers new to the book should not feel daunted or put off by the fact that this book might require a good. Led by Robert Berry, the folks at Throwaway Horse have started a new project, a comic book representation of Ulysses that is, to say the least, wildly ambitious. I’ll let them put it in their own words:
“Ulysses ‘SEEN’” is the inaugural project of Throwaway Horse LLC. Throwaway Horse is devoted to fostering understanding of public domain literary masterworks by joining the visual aid of the graphic novel with the explicatory aid of the internet. By creating “Web 2.0” versions of these works, we hope to proliferate and help to not only preserve them, but ensure their continued vitality and relevance. Throwaway Horse projects are meant to be mere companion pieces to the works themselves—by outfitting the reader with the familiar gear of the comic narrative and the progressive gear of web annotations, we hope that a tech-savvy new generation of readers will be able to cut through jungles of unfamiliar references and appreciate the subtlety and artistry of the original books themselves which they otherwise might have neglected.
So far, Berry has illustrated the first chapter (commonly referred to as “Telemachus”). Berry’s work is far more detailed than I initially had imagined was possible, and there are even useful annotations by scholar Mike Barsanti. This is truly a massive project, given the level of detail Berry has committed to the first chapter, and I think it will be an invaluable resource to readers new to Ulysses as well as those who’ve already been through the book before. Here’s hoping that we’ll get all the way to Molly’s final monologue!
(Thanks to Nick for the tip).