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Homer, Sweet Homer: Gareth Hinds on The Odyssey

Writer and artist Gareth Hinds takes on one of the greatest stories of all time in The Odyssey, his graphic-novel adaptation of Homer’s classic. Here he discusses his inspiration, the challenges of adaptation, and more.

The Odyssey seems perfect for retelling in graphic-novel form. When did you first read it, and what made you want to bring it to this format?
I first read The Odyssey in 9th grade. I was encouraged to read it as extra credit for my comp/lit class by a fabulous teacher named Joyce DeForge. I loved it at the time, and I continued to love it in subsequent readings over the years. Right after I adapted Beowulf, it occurred to me that The Odyssey would be an equally cool action-packed, dramatic visual story to tell in the graphic-novel format. However, it was a few more years before I was ready to take on a work of such epic scope and length.

What do you love about the original story?
It has lots of great action scenes, monsters, magic, gods and goddesses, all kinds of stuff that appeals to me visually, but it also has a great dramatic story. Moments like Odysseus' reunion with his son, his wife, his father, and—most touching—his dog Argos, give it a lot of emotional depth. I also like that by the end, the reader is (hopefully) sick of all the violence and genuinely happy to see Odysseus put down his sword and live a peaceful life.

What were the challenges of turning it into a graphic novel?
The length, of course. Also the many crowd scenes. There are pages with panel after panel showing crowds of suitors (or Pyleans, or Phaeacians), which can be exhausting to draw. There are also scenes that were difficult to adapt from prose to comics without using an omniscient third-person narrator, and I spent a lot of time wrestling with those. For example, when Odysseus is recognized by Argos, and again later by Eurycleia, those are very complex moments, with a lot of internal stuff going on, that's tricky to represent visually.

The production values on this book are very high, and the art looks beautiful. How did you achieve the look you were going for on this book?
With every project, I feel the look has to suit the story, so I always start out by experimenting with different materials to get the right look—and to make sure I can execute it on schedule! I tried a lot of things with sumi ink and acrylic, working on different kinds of paper, and so on, but ultimately what seemed to work best was a very straightforward pencil and watercolor technique. It felt very real, even though the things I was drawing were often quite fantastic. I spent about 18 months total for writing, rough layout and finished art.

Who do you think is the audience for the book?
There's an obvious educational market, because seeing the classics in this form really helps open the minds of reluctant readers to the material. But I'd also say, anyone who already likes The Odyssey or who has been meaning to read it, anyone who likes mythology or historical fiction, anyone who is willing to pick up a 250-page book full of pictures!

Could you see the book being used in classrooms that are reading The Odyssey?
I already know it will be used that way, because Beowulf has been widely adopted for classroom use, and those teachers have been excited for The Odyssey since I started showing samples of it at the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Convention two years ago.

Will you tackle The Iliad as well?
No, or at least not right away. I needed a break from huge projects, and I don't like the story of The Iliad as much as The Odyssey. There is also a pretty great comic book retelling of the whole Trojan War called Age of Bronze by Eric Shanower. It's aimed at a slightly older audience and isn't directly from Homer, but it makes me feel less urgent about doing my version of the story.

What are you working on next?
I'm just about finished illustrating a 96-page picture book about Greek and Roman mythology—Gifts from the Gods, by Lise Lunge-Larsen. After that, I'm not sure. I have a bunch of half-finished scripts for adaptations, original nonfiction, historical fiction, and even a couple of alphabet books. I'm not sure which one will find a home first.

-- John Hogan