A former Springfield resident is putting a story originally written on clay tablets in an extinct language of Mesopotamia into a language any red-blooded American can understand — comics.
Cartoonist Kevin Dixon, a 1983 North High School graduate, has spent the past 10 years serializing the epic of Gilgamesh, civilization’s first recorded story, in comic book form.
The work has so far been self-published, but that effort recently got a boost when editor Russ Kick, who was looking to showcase mankind’s great literature as comics, unearthed Dixon’s take on the ancient story via the Internet.
Part of Dixon’s Gilgamesh tale leads off “The Graphic Canon Vol. 1,” a major anthology released this spring to national fanfare. Dixon’s art adorns the cover as well.
Kick and Dixon will take part in a panel discussion Thursday at Wittenberg University about comics and the classics.
Also featuring work from the likes of Robert Crumb and the late Will Eisner, Publishers Weekly called the book “the graphic publishing literary event of the year.” Library Journal declared it “an exciting new benchmark for comics.”
Presented in the inaugural 512-page volume are comic book adaptations of everything from “The Iliad” to the Book of Revelation to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
The second volume, released this month, features literature from the 1800s, with Dixon’s take on a chapter of Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist.”
In the new volume, Dixon was given just five pages to tell the story, which created a dilemma. “Who am I to edit Dickens?” he asked.
He decided to ditch the words altogether, presenting “a silent movie treatment of this chapter of ‘Oliver Twist,’ ” he said.
For Matthew J. Smith, a Springfield resident and professor of communication at Wittenberg who teaches a popular study of comics called Graphic Storytelling, “The Graphic Canon” is more proof to win over people with preconceived notions about comics.
“It’s more fodder for the fight,” Smith said. “The more it permeates the public consciousness, the more it helps people realize that comics can be more than Archie or Superman.”
For “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” Dixon’s pictures accompany text supplied by his father, Springfield resident and Wittenberg English professor Kent Dixon.
The elder Dixon had previously done his own translation of the story — about a monster-killing, immortality-seeking king in present-day Iraq who also happens to be a Herculean lover — and suggested his son do a comic book version.
“It was one of the rare occasions where I agreed with him,” Kevin Dixon said. “It adapts perfectly to comics.”
Now a resident of Athens, Ga., Dixon, 47, is finally making money from his work.
“It’s not a career I’d recommend to anyone,” he explained. “But, for some people, it just becomes an obsession, and you just have to do it, whether you get paid or not.”
With “The Graphic Canon,” Dixon’s work now appears alongside the work of his heroes.
“It’s really exciting to be under the same cover as some of those guys. Crumb especially,” he said. “It’s a huge honor.”
Thank you for reading the Springfield News-Sun and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Springfield News-Sun. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.