Dante's Divine Comedy: A Graphic Adaptation, by Seymour Chwast
Dante's Divine Comedy has, from its earliest days, attracted illustrators ranging from an anonymous 14th-century illuminator, to Botticelli and Blake and Doré. In our day, it has inspired the likes of Leonard Baskin, Salvador Dali and Barry Moser. So why shouldn't Chwast, of Pushpin Studios, try his hand? No reason.
But here's the thing. He didn't illustrate Dante's Divine Comedy. Instead, he summarized it and illustrated the summary. It's 127 pages, mostly illustrations. My copies of the Divine Comedy range from approximately 600 pages to more than 900, depending on the type size and the length of the notes/commentaries. You just can't do it in the space here allotted, and have it make any semblance of sense to anyone not already familiar with the work. Even then, most modern readers will need notes or commentary.
However, the drawings are fantastic! Picture Dante in a trench coat and fedora, meeting a bowler-hatted Virgil in the dark wood. Charon's ferry is a speedboat, Francesca's husband wears a wife-beater and carries a can of beer. On to Purgatory in a rowboat, where Nino Visconti lies in his coffin holding a machine gun and the wanton women of Florence are flappers sipping martinis. Up to Heaven we go, to find Emperor Justinian is a lounge singer and the crusaders ride in tanks.
I just wish that, rather than compress the text, Chwast had created these illustrations to accompany it.