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Capes Optional – The Illustrated Bard

posted: , by Thaddeus Moriarty
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Teens

maven-ShakespeareAgain we meet, fine readers young and old;

my blog, it has a secret to be told:

The Bard has tales in comic form, you see,

And found they can be at the lib’rary!

Welcome back, dear reader, to Capes Optional, PPL’s Grade-A, cage-free graphic novel blogorama for your eyeballs. Everyone knows that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is out in movie theaters in just a few weeks, but much like Lex Luthor taking over the Justice League Watchtower, ye olde William Shakespeare has conquered the hearts, minds, (and indeed, gallery space) of the Portland Public Library — and he hath not spared mine lowly publication! Thus, I bring you five Shakespeare graphic novels that you can find right on the shelves of PPL to satisfy both your love of graphic novels as well as your craving for the immortal works of the Bard.

               Manga Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar illustrated by Mustashrik

Manga ShakespeareOur first graphic novel comes from a series called “Manga Shakespeare,” which takes the original texts of the works and pairs them with art inspired by modern Japanese illustrators, often re-imagining the settings of the plays in fantastical ways. In this instance, ancient Rome is transformed into a steampunk-style desert world, with the conspirators against Caesar wearing visors and flying helicopters, and the warriors of the Roman Empire fighting with semi-automatic weapons on motorcycle-back. The artwork is all black-and-white and can end up looking a little repetitive eventually, but any lover of manga or anime will be right at home in this interesting retelling of the classic tragedy.

               The Tempest adapted by John McDonald and illustrated by Jon Haward

The TempestAhh, The Tempest. This play by Shakespeare is closest to my heart as I played a role in a production at the University of Southern Maine. The incredible imagery of  it – the magics of Ariel, the conjured storm, the monstrous Caliban – is a joy to enact on stage, and this graphic novel, part of a series from Classical Comics, is equally beautiful. Classical Comics actually releases three versions of its Shakespeare graphic novels: one in the original Old English; one in “plain text” easy to understand; and one in “quick text,” which omits everything but the central plot from the story. PPL has  the “plain text” version, which makes for an easy read without losing all of the nuance and tangential plotlines that Shakespeare is famous for. The artwork is colorful and fun, and the characters pop right out of the page. Can you guess what my role in the play was?

               Romeo & Juliet illustrated by Will Volley

romeo julietteThis is another one of Classical Comics’ graphic novels. We have the “original text” version on our shelves, so it remains a tough read for those not versed in or used to the Old English. Romeo and Juliet, for its credit, is one of the more grokkable of the Bard’s plays, but still, for every one of its “Wherefore art thou Romeo?”s (which actually means “Why is your name Romeo?”), there is a “to-night she is mew’d up to her heaviness” (which I’ve got nothing for). Volley’s art is quite a bit different from Haward’s – think Prince Valiant compared to Ninja Turtles – but it helps make the story easier to follow, and certainly to differentiate between similar sounding characters (Benvolio, Mercutio, and Tybalt could all have the same voice, as far as I’m concerned.)

               Macbeth adapted and illustrated by Gareth Hinds

macbethThis graphic novel is a masterpiece. Hinds keeps most of the original text and adds to it a distinctive art style that brings to life the tragic tale of hubris and comeuppance. This particular graphic novel is certainly not for the faint of heart (Hinds shows no quarrel with depicting blood and bone in his paintings), but leaves lasting impressions. The eerie depiction of the ghost of Banquo staring down Macbeth at his banquet table in Act 3 Scene 4 is spine-chilling, and the final showdown with Macduff is pure comic-book action (with no capes required!). Not for the kids, but perfect for comic readers looking for superheroes saving Scotland, and not Metropolis.

               King Lear illustrated by Gareth Hinds

king learAnother of Hinds’ works, the art of King Lear is markedly different from that of Macbeth. King Lear, in our children’s section and meant to be an introduction to Shakespeare, has the artwork and the story literally intertwined, the winds of the art carrying the words from characters’ mouths to ears, letters spelled out in lightning cascading towards the wretched king, and color schemes that permeate the entire piece. The letter work is a little hard to read at times, and certainly parents will want to show some discretion before showing some of the artwork or reading some of the plot to younger children (speaking of eyeballs), but this is a beautiful way to read through one of Shakespeare’s more tragic plays.

There are more graphic novels based on Shakespeare’s works within the PPL collection, including different retellings of the same plays (four each of Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth!), and you can discover those here. Also look for references – both subtle and overt – to the Bard in works such as Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman.

I love reading graphic novel versions of literature, and I hope that this blog will inspire you to go beyond the Bard and into other genres as well. Next time, we’ll look at some of my favorite Batman and Superman graphic novels just in time to enjoy the new movie. So keep reading, dear reader, and remember: “gentle breath of yours my sails must fill, or else my project fails!”

Movie of the Month: Looking for Richard

posted: , by Patti DeLois
tags: Library Collections | Adults | Teens | Seniors | Art & Culture

Al Pacino Looking for RichardAl Pacino spent four years making this film, the purpose of which is to share his feelings about Shakespeare, and to make one of the Bard’s most difficult plays accessible to a modern audience.

And what are Pacino’s feelings about Shakespeare? He loves him, he’s passionate about him, because the plays are all about human emotions, which are the same no matter the time or place. Pacino believes the legacy of Shakespeare’s plays belongs to actors, who must find the feelings in the words of their characters and transmit them to the audience.

And so he assembles a troupe of American actors to discuss and parse and act out scenes from Richard III. He talks about the relationships among the characters–the Yorks, the Lancasters, the brothers and nephews and wives who all have their own ideas about who should wear the crown. He talks to British actors like Derek Jacobi and Vanessa Redgrave and Kenneth Branagh about whether Americans can do justice to Shakespeare, whether we have perhaps become estranged from the language, or lack the knowledge of British history. He does man-in-the-street interviews to find out whether people think Shakespeare is relevant to them, and why or why not. He explores various settings, and films scenes from the play, and the entire film becomes an experiment in Shakespeare.

Sometimes described as “video Cliff notes,” this film can reawaken a passion for Shakespeare, or introduce the reluctant student to his timeless revelations about the human condition.Al Pacino Cliff Notes

Highly recommended.

For more Shakespeare films and adaptations, click here.


PPL’s Choice Awards

posted: , by Patti DeLois
tags: Library Collections | Adults | Teens | Kids & Families | Seniors | Art & Culture


It’s Awards Season, culminating in the big Academy Awards ceremony on February 28th.

In keeping with the season, we at the Portland Public Library have put on our finest clothes, walked the orange carpet, and selected a few of our own favorites to receive the following awards:

Presenter: Elizabeth Hrickman


Winner: This award is presented posthumously to Alan Rickman. RIP


Presenter: Patti


Winner: The Madness of King George

This movie won three BAFTA awards (the British equivalent of the Oscars) including Best Picture and Best Actor (Nigel Hawthorne as King George.) Videoport owned this as part of their collection, and soon it will be circulating at the Library.


Presenter: Thaddeus


Winner: “My prestigious award for “Best Thing In a Box” is from the 2008 movie Se7en, with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. Pitt plays Detective Mills, a brash, passionate crimesolver who is roped into working on a serial se7enkiller case with weeks-from-retirement Detective Somerset, played by Freeman. Someone is killing people who have committed the Seven Deadly Sins, and is always one step ahead of Mills and Somerset as they follow his clues to an ultimate, gut-wrenching showdown. The brilliant movie is full of twists and turns and an intensity that has been lost on more modern thrillers, and comes to a heart-stopping climax when Mills, near the end of his sanity, screams to Somerset “What’s in the box?!” that the killer had delivered right to their feet. And what is in the box? Why, the winner of my award.”



Presenter: Mary

Category: DOGS

“The international film critics got it right when they began to award The Palm Dog Award during the Cannes Film trampFestival.  Begun in 2001, this award goes to the best performance by a canine (live or animated.)  Look at all of the great performances that came before that date!”


BEST PERFORMANCE BY A CANINE (live): Nikki in Nikki, Wild Dog of the North

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A CANINE (animated):  Tramp in Lady and the Tramp

BEST DOG FILM (comedy):  Best in Show

BEST DOG FILM (drama):  Greyfriars Bobby


Truman ShowPresenter: Hazel


Winner: The Truman Show




skeleton-twins-dvd-cover-50Presenter: Patti


Winners: Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig in The Skeleton Twins



Presenter: Kelley


Winner: Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire)

As a Teen Librarian, I have heard many an adult dismiss works of young adult fiction without having read them. My hackles go up, my feathers get ruffled - how can you criticize something you haven’t taken the time to experience? So, it is with just a tiny bit of shame that I say to you that I have never and will never watch the movie City of Angles starring Nicholaswings of desire Cage and Meg Ryan BECAUSE IT SHOULD NOT EXIST. There should be a law about remaking films this good. You know you agree with me.

I have an undergraduate degree in German (long story). In 2001, I was going to school in Berlin, and there was a movie theater in the center of the city that played Wings of Desire on a continuous loop throughout the day. This made total sense since the film was shot in Berlin just a few short years before the Wall came down, and captures a divided city in flux and decay. What an amazing experience it was for me to (1) skip school and sit alone in a dark theater watching this masterpiece, and (2) then be able to walk through the historic and changed city I saw so beautifully captured on film.

One of my favorite scenes shows an elderly gentlemen, Homer, wandering through a deserted field on the site of Potsdamer Platz near the Brandenburg Gate. In 2001, Potsdamer Platz was once again a thriving, modern business and shopping center. In the film, it is an abandoned wasteland around the Wall. Through the medium of his guardian angel, we hear and see Homer’s stream-of-conscious thoughts and memories of this place. This and many other scenes in the film will leave you hollow and aching with the solitude of the human experience.

Bonus awards: as if this film isn’t excellent enough in it’s own right, Wings of Desire wins extra credit for featuring the following: Colombo (Peter Falk), Nick Cave (performing! hot!), a traveling French circus, and the amazing interiors of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (State Library), where every reader is watched over by invisible angels.




jaguar hearsePresenter: Raminta
Category: BEST CAR
Winner: The 1965 Jaguar XK-E hearse in Harold and Maude
“The car was a first in its stylishness and form, despite being dropped off a cliff.While these types of car mash-ups were happening across the globe, no movie has done it in a way with such class and style. Sadly the car truly was one of kind and was actually destroyed during filming.This car paved the way for all other car mash-ups including the whole fleet of mash-up cars in Mad Max: Fury Road, all of which had multiple clones as the cars kept getting destroyed during that movie’s filming.”



Presenter: PattiJulie and Julia


Winner:  Meryl Streep as Julia Child in Julie and Julia




United 93 Presenter: Patti


Winner: United 93

Paul Greengrass directed this account of the ill-fated flight of United 93, using people who were actually working at the National Air Traffic Control Center to reenact events as they happened. On the plane, there are no recognizable stars to root for, just ordinary-looking people who reenact events as best we can reconstruct them. What makes the film so compelling and heartbreaking is that we in the audience know how it will end, and the passengers don’t.


Presenters: Sonya and Patti


Winners: We have a tie!big blue bug

Sonya’s Choice: Big Blue Bug Solutions from Dumb and Dumber



what's love got to do with itPatti’s Choice: The Ramada Inn sign in What’s Love Got to Do With It





 Presenter: PattiFredo


Winner: John Cazale

You remember him as Fredo in The Godfather movies. You remember him from The Deer Hunter, and from Dog Day Afternoon. You remember him because every performance he gave was memorable. His friends remember him in I Knew It Was You.


That’s all for this year’s awards. Thank you to all our presenters, and we’ll see you at the after party.


For the latest Oscar news, click here.

For a list of Oscar winners from the Criterion Collection, click here.


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