Clobberin' Oscar Wilde
In 1998, a Canadian comics fan sent letters to 10 illustrators asking for them to send him a sketch of their favorite literary figure, either a fictional character or a real-life author. After getting a few back -- including one from comics legend Will Eisner -- he set up a website. Originally titled "Artistic Interpretation of Literary Figures," it got renamed "Hey Oscar Wilde! It's Clobberin' Time!!!" after the fan heard his young sons playing a game in which the Fantastic Four's The Thing was, he says, "beating the snot out of the Irish playwright." That happens sometimes when comics meet literature.
Above left, Peter Bagge draws Betty MacDonald, a Seattle-area author known for her 1945 memoir "The Egg and I" -- which introduced the enduring characters Ma and Pa Kettle -- and also wrote some of my favorite children's books, the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series. At right is the recognizable Kurt Vonnegut, drawn by artist Jim Rugg. The list of authors stretches across millennia and writing styles; a sampling includes Homer, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Leo Tolstoy, Margaret Mitchell, Mickey Spillane, J.R.R. Tolkein, Thomas Pynchon, Judy Blume and Don DeLillo.
The characters, on the other hand, tend to have clusters of popularity. There are there are nine Harry Potters, eight Sherlock Holmeses and seven Frankensteins. Maybe that's because characters, which start out as words on a page, are fun to imagine. No matter how many film versions might compete, there's still the character as seen in the reader's mind. A few readers -- these artists -- are skilled enough to get that image down on paper.
There's nothing to buy at Hey Oscar Wilde! It's Clobberin' Time!!! -- it's just an online gallery. But you can expect to lose something -- a lot of time wandering through its archives.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Images: Betty MacDonald by Peter Bagge, and Kurt Vonnegut by Jim Rugg. Used with permission from the website Hey Oscar Wilde! It's Clobberin' Time!!!