‘Howl; A Graphic Novel’ by Allen Ginsberg & Eric Drooker

Fans of Eric Drooker’s earlier books (Flood, Blood Song) may find this graphic novel disappointing. It’s exciting that a leftist artist like Drooker was chosen to animate a leftist poem like Howl.

But this book is not truly a graphic novel. These illustrations are simply stills taken from the film Howl (which came out earlier this fall), used to illuminate lines of the poem.

I haven’t yet seen the film, and so to me, this book seemed like those pictures books parents buy their kids after seeing a Disney film, a kind of printed souvenir. As in much of his earlier work, Drooker uses a dark palette and images of urbanism and industrialism to signify evil. But the woodcut/scratchboard look of Drooker’s art is gone. His drawings appear more 3-D; this film animation is more Shrek-like, than Persepolis-like.

Some of the pictures and text synch well: Swells of pink and gold swirl out a saxophone player’s horn, filling the dark night with bursts of color that match the written poetry: “…and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in the goldhorn shadow the band …”

But too often the picture seems chosen only the closest match, plucked from the hundreds of frames used to make the animation. The illustrations often have murky backgrounds, and lack a focal center. And without action, the narrative is lost.

The ebb and flow of clouds moving, the chase scenes and smoke swirling that narrates the film are lost in this book.

Characterization is unclear, too. Some scenes show a young Ginsberg typing. Others show men–seemingly representing the every man-running, fighting, suffering. But how they come together, overlap or don’t, is unexplained.

Although this review isn’t intended to reexamine Ginsberg’s text, it’s interesting how relevant the poem (with these illustrations) still is. Unintentionally, some of both the drawings and words seem to invoke events such as the BP oil spill (and the monster look of the rigs) as well as the recent economic downturn and conservative backlash in the U.S.

Purchase this book as a way to relive the experience of the film or as an illustrated version of the poem Howl, but not as a graphic novel.

Howl; A Graphic Novel
by Allen Ginsberg & Eric Drooker
Harper Perennial
Paperback, 9780062015174, 224pp.