Stately plump Buck Mulligan
January 21, 2010 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Ulysses "Seen" is an ambitious, ongoing project to create a webcomic adaptation of James Joyce's Ulysses. Each page of the comic offers an accompanying reader's guide, and there's a blog about the progress of the project.
posted by Horace Rumpole (41 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
Huh. So what does the man in the macintosh actually look like?
posted by Schmucko at 10:14 AM on January 21, 2010


Maybe if you've already read the book through once.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:20 AM on January 21, 2010


I knew Joyce's onomatopoeia was the literary precursor of the stylized sound effects (BANG! POW!) in comics, I just never put it together before!
posted by griphus at 10:23 AM on January 21, 2010


It's an interesting idea, but I feel like it's only going to be super-satisfying in visual form when we get to Circe.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:30 AM on January 21, 2010


I wouldn't mind a copy of this.
posted by demiurge at 10:33 AM on January 21, 2010


Is it just me, or does the comic format potentially do away with the need for a reader's guide? It might be just me. I mean, I got frustrated with my Ulysses' reader's guide because I didn't care about schemata or criticism at that point and just wanted help with figuring out, in a concrete way, what was going on with the story.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:38 AM on January 21, 2010


Is it just me, or does the comic format potentially do away with the need for a reader's guide?

It depends on how referential the comic is (to both other works and the medium itself.) With comics like The Invisibles and, to a lesser extent, Watchmen, the greater message is almost completely lost without someone to hold your hand through parts of it.
posted by griphus at 10:45 AM on January 21, 2010


With comics like The Invisibles and, to a lesser extent, Watchmen, the greater message is almost completely lost without someone to hold your hand through parts of it.

Pff, whatever.
posted by interrobang at 10:48 AM on January 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


Pff, whatever.

Pistols at dawn it is, then.
posted by griphus at 10:54 AM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Lovely idea for people who want pictures to accompany a Cliff notes rendering.
posted by Postroad at 11:06 AM on January 21, 2010


With comics like The Invisibles and, to a lesser extent, Watchmen, the greater message is almost completely lost without someone to hold your hand through parts of it.

That probably depends on what you think the 'point' of The Invisible or Watchmen or Ulysses is. I was really glad when someone pointed out to me that the Fearful Symmetry chapter of Watchmen was drawn with a page-by-page, panel-by-panel symmetry, but I don't really think that was necessary to know in order to get the whole superhero/fascism thing.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:12 AM on January 21, 2010


The use of language is intrinsic to the story. Without it, you're not reading Ulysses you're reading Man Walks Around Dublin.
posted by mpbx at 11:16 AM on January 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


shakespeherian - I guess I should've said "you're not grasping the entirety of the messages put across." Whenever I lend out my copy, I always ask the person to read it twice: first for the plot, and then just paying attention to the images and layout and so on. Watchmen was intentionally written as much a comment on the medium itself as it was a story about humanizing superheroes, so not picking up on the symmetry aspect would mean that you're losing something Moore and Gibbons wanted you to see. Some people (like interrobang above, apparently) are either fine with missing out or can pick this stuff up on their own. You (and I, for that matter) need it pointed out and get a greater enjoyment from the comic.
posted by griphus at 11:21 AM on January 21, 2010


That's fine, and I agree, but I'm also sort of wary of reader guides. I'm much happier, say, learning about the subtext of the layout and design of Watchmen from having a conversation with peers (this includes MetaFilter) than learning about its Importance from an authoritative came-with-the-book Here's What You Need To Know sort of user's manual. I think the distinction, for me, is that I can more easily assess what my peers say as to my own understanding of what's important, what's intentional, what's accidental, and what's beanplating. Getting it from a Cliff's Notes-type thing imbues these things with weight that, if nothing else, hinders this process of exploration on the part of the reader, even if that exploration involves getting clued in by others.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:29 AM on January 21, 2010


Great! People have really been missing out on the compelling plot of Ulysses because of all that pointless detail.

What.
posted by oinopaponton at 11:31 AM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think it's more like the detail can be so overwhelming as to make it difficult to ground yourself in the actual plot and story (which is there, no matter how compelling, or not, you find it) which makes reading it unfun, and probably has a least something to do with the fact that many people give up completely.

Which is why I think this is a pretty good project, even if I don't get the need for notes.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:35 AM on January 21, 2010


Without it, you're not reading Ulysses you're reading Man Walks Around Dublin.

Well, sure, but I don't think anyone is contending that this project is actually the same as reading Ulysses. I enjoyed looking through the Telemachus episode posted here because I liked seeing how it coincided (or not) with my own visual sense of the setting and characters that I've had in my head for the past 20 years since the first time I read it. Of course it's nothing like the pleasure of actually reading the novel, but it's a pleasure nonetheless. Plus, I can appreciate the work and dedication that necessarily goes into creating a project like this, even if it's not the same work and dedication that Joyce put into writing the novel itself.

I dunno, I just think Ulysses stands well enough by itself that I don't find projects like this to diminish it in any way. In fact, I'm happy that nearly a century later it still inspires people in such a variety of ways, and I also think that if this helps even a few people feel less intimidated by the novel itself -- thus giving them an entrance into reading the whole damndelightful shebang -- then that can only be a good thing. Joyce For All and All For Joyce!
posted by scody at 11:39 AM on January 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


I guess this is a case of personal preference. While I enjoy conversation, I prefer the (not-necessarily-deserved) authority of extant documents. I discussed Watchmen with my friends after I read it, but I also devoured the annotations. TSame thing with the Invisibles (which is dense enough to have published ones.) This may be because I am lazy and it is easier, or because I'm a generally asocial person even on the Internet and have few comics-reading friends. I don't think I can drop a judgment call on either method, though.
posted by griphus at 11:40 AM on January 21, 2010


The use of language is intrinsic to the story. Without it, you're not reading Ulysses you're reading Man Walks Around Dublin.

Great! People have really been missing out on the compelling plot of Ulysses because of all that pointless detail.


I think it's pretty clear that this is not the work of somebody who thinks that reading their version is better than reading Joyce's novel, or that it renders it superfluous in any way. It's just an attempt to adapt it to a different form. It's obviously going to lose some things, crucial things, in the process, but maybe it gains some as well. Surely it's nice to have both?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:43 AM on January 21, 2010


Focusing on the "plot" of Ulysses is like watching Pulp Fiction to find out where Marcellus' briefcase ends up.
posted by mpbx at 11:44 AM on January 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


The use of language is intrinsic to the story. Without it, you're not reading Ulysses you're reading Man Walks Around Dublin.

I don't know, I kinda like the idea. While it's true that a certain degree of simplification is inevitable with a comic book adaptation, the medium does have its good sides as well. In addition to being easier to parse, the visual image is much more non-linear. And while you still read the comic from left to right, you can grasp the whole page at the same time, which lets the artist do some interesting things - like create images that can be "read" both from left to right and as a single image (see, for instance, page 19). This breaks the written text, which could give an interesting new face to Ulysses. Judging by these first few pages, the author of this thing should be capable of turning it into something more than just a visual Cliff's Notes.
posted by daniel_charms at 11:46 AM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Could someone just cobble up a list for me of links to the dirty pages?
posted by nanojath at 11:46 AM on January 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't think I can drop a judgment call on either method, though.

I'm not either; merely stating personal preference and explaining why. I certainly don't think it's lazy to read the annotations, I just think half the fun of falling in love with some piece of art is in trying to explore its meanings, and having someone officially say 'Passage X means Y' kind of shuts that down for me.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:47 AM on January 21, 2010


...difficult to ground yourself in the actual plot and story (which is there, no matter how compelling, or not, you find it) which makes reading it unfun...

I've found that the ability to ignore a not-so-great plot in exchange for everything else the text has to offer was something I had to work train/learn. From a very young age we're taught to acknowledge plots above all else, especially in fiction, and weaning off that is difficult but worthwhile.
posted by griphus at 11:47 AM on January 21, 2010


I'll wait for the webcomic version of Finnegans Wake, thanks.
posted by spamguy at 11:49 AM on January 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


shakespeherian - Oh, I wasn't implying you were. Thinking about it, I actually use the annotations more for internal/external referentiality ("Passage X is a reference to Passage Q/Work Y") and then compare the two works/passages being juxtaposed by myself. Depending on something that states "Passage X means Y" to absorb the work is most definitely a blow to any enjoyment I'd be able to get out of a text.
posted by griphus at 11:52 AM on January 21, 2010


This is a neat project, as a project. That is, as something to undertake and do, I can appreciate the choice and effort. And I like some of the drawings.

I'm not sure, though, that Ulysses is a very good candidate for this treatment. After all, it's a novel the substance of which is significantly contained in its form. It isn't just that the writing is good, and should therefore be savored, but that the structure alludes to the history of English literature. The plot, such as it is, is not all that compelling, and can be summed up in just a few sentences. And translating all of the language magic into visual magic would be amazing, but I'm not sure that this (straightforward) style is particularly right for it (even if the dude plans to try). (I'll be fascinated to see what he does with Penelope.)

I do have some specific quibbles, mostly about the panels around page 11. I think the artist makes the sea entirely too blue. It's called green several times in the book, and the "snotgreen" modifier in Telemachus sets up an early echo of the "winedark" sea that crops up in Homer. Further, and probably more concerning, is that there is no sign of the mail boat leaving the harbor when Stephen looks over the parapet. To my mind this is a pretty key moment, Stephen, thinking about being "elsewhere" seeing the boat leaving when he looks out into the world.

These may seems like quibbles, and certainly they're prompted by my not seeing things in the illustration that I have always seen in my mind's eye. They have a greater import, however, as a cautionary coda to this webcomic, which can only be an interpretation. This one frame has what I would class as one large and one medium error of interpretation, and it's not even a complex scene. Indeed, the drawing here is already stage directed by Joyce: there is no need to wonder what Stephen is seeing, it's right there on the page. The artist need only draw what is written.

On preview: I agree with what scody said. (Wow, what a surprise!)
posted by OmieWise at 11:53 AM on January 21, 2010


Annotations are one thing (and are especially helpful when you're trying to figure out obsolete Irish euphemisms and things), but the joy I found in Ulysses was 100% language and 0% plot. If the comic radically shifts perspective and artistic style for each chapter, it could end up being pretty cool, but the dialogue is just kind of secondary to what goes on inside the characters' heads. I'd imagine that some of my favorite chapters ("Aeolos," "Ithaca," maybe even "Penelope") will lose what makes them awesome in the process of translation into images.

The artist did render Martello Tower exactly as I imagined it, so that's cool.
posted by oinopaponton at 12:00 PM on January 21, 2010


The artist did render Martello Tower exactly as I imagined it, so that's cool.

But . . . it looks like he just drew it as what it really looks like?

I actually like the plot in Ulysses (particularly Bloom's realization/reckoning of his Judaism), at times loved the language, but at other times found the language to be either so culturally irrelevant today (relying on jokes that are no longer funny, say) or the language play to be so needlessly protracted that it distracted from it, which I found frustrating.

(My biggest problem with Ulysses? I find Stephen Dedalus to be gratingly unsympathetic and didn't really care about the conflicts he faced. But Bloom's pretty awesome, so there's that.)

I've found that the ability to ignore a not-so-great plot in exchange for everything else the text has to offer was something I had to work train/learn. From a very young age we're taught to acknowledge plots above all else, especially in fiction, and weaning off that is difficult but worthwhile.

Eh. I'm jaded from too many graduate English classes. It's not that I dislike hard work in literature--it's that the hard work can't come as a disproportionately large price to the pay-off of plot, and story, and character, and whatever else. As a writer and reader, I'm always going to be interested in plot and story and character first, however immature that makes my tastes.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:48 PM on January 21, 2010


Yeah, I think it's silly to discount the plot in Ulysses 100%. In a chapter like Cyclops, for instance, the nuts and bolts of what happens in the pub is entirely relevant in terms of some important themes, particularly Bloom's status as an outsider and Joyce's suspicions of Irish nationalism. Of course so much of the chapter's power -- and sheer comedy -- comes from its language. But the language and action are intextricably linked in service to each other.
posted by scody at 2:11 PM on January 21, 2010


Could someone just cobble up a list for me of links to the dirty pages?
Until that happens, this may tide you over.
posted by tellurian at 3:32 PM on January 21, 2010


I'm not that impressed with the artwork. Among other things, something about the coloring looks very odd to me.

I would think the first three chapters would be the easiest to illustrate too, because they're the most linear, and easiest to understand anyway. But as the book goes along, I think Joyce gets more and more self-indulgent, and so the structure gets stranger and stranger, which means that I'm not sure that illustrating it will make anything much clearer.

I didn't read any of the related text on the site though, so maybe that's not what the artist is after.
posted by colfax at 4:04 PM on January 21, 2010


The best way to read Ulysses is to have a copy by your bedside, flip it open at random, and read one or two pages before going to sleep. The sheer poetic power of the writing style is just gorgeous.

As for plot, if you like modernist literary puzzle constructions, go for it.
posted by ovvl at 4:05 PM on January 21, 2010


I had a friend whose mother was born and raised in Ireland. She was not particularly pretentious or intellectual. Once when I was visiting, I noticed that she was reading Finnegans Wake.

"You're reading Finnegans Wake? Isn't that some kind of dense incomprehensible intellectual pretentious literary doorstop?"

She just laughed and said: "You have to understand Gaelic to get the jokes."
posted by ovvl at 4:13 PM on January 21, 2010


But as the book goes along, I think Joyce gets more and more self-indulgent,

We're calling James Joyce "self-indulgent" now? Wowza.
posted by ford and the prefects at 4:39 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


He . . . wasn't? I mean, the man wrote two semi-autobiographical novels.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:41 PM on January 21, 2010


I read Ulysses for the first time this summer. I was serving some time for old warrants and a friend sent me a copy, along with Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce's Ulysses.

I don't think i would have made it through, much less understood half of the literary and religious references and figures of speech without it. I took it a chapter at a time. I would read through the annotations and then read the entire chapter so I wasn't going back and forth every sentence.

Thanks, friend.
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 4:58 PM on January 21, 2010


last summer, duh.
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 4:58 PM on January 21, 2010


I'll wait for the webcomic version of Finnegans Wake, thanks.

It's being serialized all across the Internet in the form of CAPTCHAs. Check it out!
posted by bokane at 4:59 PM on January 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


I read Ulysses for the first time this summer. I was serving some time for old warrants and a friend sent me a copy

Recommend Boethius Consolation of Philosophy, the classic jailbird text.
posted by stbalbach at 5:49 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


STILL BORING
posted by tehloki at 6:12 PM on January 21, 2010


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