Nabokov and Comics Revisited
by Jeet Heer
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Vladimir Nabokov’s love of comics has been discussed on this blog before. Equally interesting is the flip-side, the love cartoonists have for Nabokov. Here are a few examples:
1. Jay Lynch interview, Comics Journal #114:
Lynch: Sure. Sometimes, I think that Nard N’ Pat is pretty much derived from James Joyce’s Ulysses and that Phoebe is nothing more than improvisations that spin off from Nabokov’s Ada.
Lait: How many times have you read Ada?
Lynch: Eight or nine. Jackie has known me for years, so he knows that I think Nabokov’s Ada is the greatest, most complex piece of fiction ever written. Once I did a thing for RAW called “The Goodnight Kids.” It’s full of Ada references. I figured if one person deciphered that, I’d be fulfilled.
“The Goodnight Kids” can be found in Raw vol. 1, #5 (1983).
2. Dan Clowes interview, Comics Journal #233, discussing his graphic novel David Boring:
Clowes: I was certainly inspired by Pale Fire, I think, with his undependable narrator, or maybe he is a dependable narrator, it’s hard to say. The way he sort of references this text, that being the old comic book, and sort of re-imagines it into what he wants it to be.
When I was reading Pale Fire, I remember the thing I really responded to was the idea that I had, as a kid, read comics that my brother had left lying around, and I had tried to take from them some unconscious message that wasn’t necessarily there. I thought that was such a great thing in Pale Fire how this unreliable critic who’s sort of mis-analyzing this whole epic poem that John Shade has written, is actually creating this whole new work of art that’s possibly even superior to this great poem itself.
Clowes also included a Nabokov joke in Eightball #17: a gag cartoon titled “The Lepidopterist.” David Boring is full of allusions to Nabokov. Perhaps the most subtle is a statement made by the hero to his lover, “You’re the original of Wanda.” (p. 92.) Nabokov’s last, unfinished book (which will finally be published this fall) is titled The Original of Laura.
3. Chris Ware interview, Comics Journal #200:
Ware: There is a segment in Lolita where Humbert Humbert is trying to describe the accumulative effect of a number of events going on in his visual field as he comes upon an accident scene in his front yard. He has to go through three or four paragraphs to describe what’s happening, and he excuses himself and the limits of his medium for its inherent lack of simultaneity. This is, of course, something you could presumably do in a comic strip, though it wouldn’t be nearly as funny.
4. In his novel Laughter in the Dark, Nabokov described a fictional animated character named “Cheapy the Guinea Pig.” In the anthology Zero Zero, issue #27, Al Columbia did a one-page strip imagining what Cheapy looked like.