It’s a tale going back ages. It’s one we’ve heard or at least heard about all our lives, at one point or another. Homer’s The Iliad is a lasting, influential work of writing detailing a war enveloping the Achaeans (Greeks), the Trojans and their respective gods of the Greek Pantheon. However, it’s not the entirety of the war. Set during the latter end of the 10 year long war between the two factions, it’s a tale about everything from friendship, honor and tragedy and more. Incited primarily by the departure of Helen, the Spartan Queen, with the Trojan prince Paris, the battle is among the most iconic to be ever spoken of. Emerging from the grand oral tradition of storytelling, The Iliad is a tale that speaks to not only to a mysterious and mythic past, but to the history of storytelling itself.
So adapting it? Not all that easy, to understate things. The work is a monster, spanning 24 ‘books’, detailing conflicts that live beyond its pages, boasting hundreds of characters, innumerable scenes and mighty battles. Gareth Hinds’ adaptation of the epic conflict set during the tenth year of the long war is an admirable attempt. Kicking off with a short Prologue of prose detailing the basics and giving readers context, Hinds immediately makes an approachable and digestible version of the timeless epic. From there on, the story charges forward, structured into 24 ‘books’, or chapters, if you will, much like the original text itself.
It’s a smart and reasonable approach and it certainly works. Hinds’ tale has a solid spine from the choice and keeps going, despite the creator having to, understandably, cut out material in order to get to the point and cover the entire story. He doesn’t quite have the room to ruminate on all the intricate details of the epic and since doing so isn’t the intent either, the book works fairly well as a great overarching encapsulation of the saga. All the key players and characters are introduced quickly, with the book using third person captions to both give the book a mythic sensibility and scope while getting across key exposition. It’s a device that seeks to convey the sense that Homer’s own work does and it’s also a choice that definitely makes sense for the work.
The narrative is well known to all by now, but regardless, Hinds crafts a fairly engaging read moving through each segment of the story with his lovely, lush artwork and colors. Gifted with the ability to display great emotional range through his pencil-work, Hinds creates a remarkable world full of believably human figures. Balancing carefully between intricate detail and elegant simplicity, Hinds’ work revels in illustrative mastery spanning ornate shields, glorious spreads of settings and human interactions. At the heart of the story? Plenty of characters, but chiefly, Hector and Achilles. While the latter stars selectively through the book, staying out of most of the war, him and Hector really end up being the two leading figures of the work, representing both sides, in all their majesty and cruelty.
Hinds’ choice of colors is solid here, as he attributes key color ideas to armies and even divine entities, helping the readers navigate the complex realm of the story. Artistic liberties like these are in keeping with the Homeric oral tradition, with the storytelling making the changes one needs to in order to best communicate the tale to his audience, while having internalized it well enough. From the gentle, loving pinks of Aphrodite to the gleaming golds of Apollo, Hinds constructs iconic figures and lets the colors tell his story whenever he needs to, particularly when the gods take human form. The color ties to the divine, while a simple choice, succeeds greatly.
The only area one may be mixed on is the lettering. Generally, especially when it comes to SFX and unballooned text placed on raw art, it’s well done. It succeeds and adds to the story. Other times, however, the boxed-captions and even the ballooned dialogue can pull one out of the story. The exposition-heavy third person captions suffer from this issue and make the book slow down in places, where in what is meant to leave the reader in awe can lack the effect. The balloon shapes and sizes, especially in moments of lengthy dialogue, don’t strike with the impact they should. The font in these cases can feel out of place and almost goes against the image, rather than blending in seamlessly to immerse the reader. Two scenes, specifically come to mind, with Agamemnon and Achilles, where in the reader is greeted with unbroken page-long balloons and it’s in moments like these where the book loses weight and becomes harder to read. The lettering arguably lands a lot better when the balloons are discarded entirely and placed into the art, as displayed in numerous occasions. This applies to the boxed-captions as well, as they feel ‘outside’ the art, much like the dialogue balloons and thus break immersion, where as being simply blended into the art leads to greater immersion. The reader isn’t distracted away from the images, but right there with each one, as there’s no great big white space of separation.
But beyond that, if one can get past that, what one finds is a fun read, with even special page notes and design details at the back, with Hinds going in depth and even providing his resources for research. It’s clearly a labor of love and it shows. Hinds, at his best, is able to transport the reader into barbaric realms of god games, war and heartbreaking greek tragedy and illustrates a work that’s a great way to get people interested in the epic. His character voices, the dialogues and captions themselves, letter aside, all work. They feel spot on for what he’s trying to do and the key characters are make a strong impression and the speech is a solid balance between archaic and accessible for a contemporary audience.
Gareth Hinds’ The Iliad is a solid, succinct dive into the grand saga that has fascinated so many over the ages. There’s a lot to love here, between the delightful coloring, grand scope, believable characters and the deft ability to boil down and represent a classic narrative that is hard to condense in any way at all, for it lives and breathes in the details. It’s a work of passion that can be handed to anyone for an interesting read and that’s very much the point and intent of the work. It’s a solid success!
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