November 21, 2009

King Lear as The Last of the Mohicans

King Lear“How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!”

This manga version of King Lear is set during the era of The Last of the Mohicans--circa 1759, during a crucial era of invasion and displacement along the American frontier. Lear is a venerated Mohican (Iroquois) chieftain, entering his final days. His elder daughters Regan and Goneril–-the evil pairing–-are more westernised in their looks. Lear’s youngest daughter, Cordelia, with her Native American appearance, is the lone traditionalist who cleaves to the old ways.

In this unique interpretation of Shakespeare’s tragic tale, a mighty mountaintop snowstorm for the signature setpiece makes for a dramatic backdrop where savage torture and plentiful scalpings provide and update Shakespeare’s bloody action.

"A book that's uncategorisable. King Lear is done as The Last of the Mohicans in the style of Japanese manga. The publisher has been criticised for playing it safe with its adaptations of the classics. This one is by no means safe and all the better for it."

Roger Sabin, The Observer (August 2009)
"Ilya's unique vision stands as an alternative take on the original story, shaking up the established reading of the play and asking readers to rethink their ideas about the characters and their situation. A sense of doom is created simply by casting Lear as a Native American pitted against the encroaching forces of the western world, and this in turn makes the ending yet more inevitable and tragic....This gripping adaptation brings to the table a totally unique way of looking at this classic story, and is well worth a look."

Amanda Young, NEO Magazine (July 2009)
Comment:  This sounds like a great idea in theory. But the execution is at least somewhat stereotypical.

Start with the "savage torture and plentiful scalpings." These might have been part of Mohican culture--or they might not have been. Even if they happened, you'd have to pair them with the cultural and religious context to paint a full picture.

King Lear with a blood-red face and blue hair? This doesn't look like any Indian I've ever seen. Except a stereotypical Indian mascot, of course.

A typical Indian princess in a sexy buckskin outfit. Note the tiny nose, the lack of cheekbones, the scallops over the breasts, and the slit on the left side. This is a non-Indian's fantasy of an Indian sex object, not a real Indian woman.

What the heck is this dancing figure at left? A wolf's head, raccoon eyes, deer antlers, bear skin, and beaver tale?! I'll go out on a limb and guess that neither the Mohicans nor anyone else had such a ceremonial figure. It looks like a pure invention to make the Indians look more savage and superstitious.

Also, how does the raccoon-wolf mask lose the antlers and the round mask gain the antlers in panel five? Oops.

The interior version of King Lear--an elder in a headband--and the warriors in the other panels look decent. So the work seems only partly stereotypical. People should read it with that in mind.

For more on the subject, see King Lear with Eskimos and Comic Books Featuring Indians.


Anonymous said...

It's called a fantasy story. Fantasy doesn't always have to be accurate, you know.

Anonymous said...

Japanese manga, particularly Japanese-style manga that's actually written/drawn by people of an outside nationality, loves its crazy hybrid-animals. That raccoon-thing almost reminds me of a tanuki, a raccoon-like creature/spirit that's very popular in Japanese myth and culture.

Manga takes some crazy liberties with religion and lifestyle. You should see some of the ways the Kabbalah factors into Japanese comics and video games. If you want a real laugh, check out the "Manga Bible."

Rob said...

Thanks for the news flash, Anonymous #1. Here's another news flash: People don't have to write inaccurate and stereotypical fantasy stories about Indians. When they do, I'll be here to criticize them.