Go on and be unbearably happy, it’s time for “So You Want To Read Comics”, a weekly feature where we take a look at a single topic, then offer a pair of comic book recommendations for new readers, based on that topic. This week, we’re taking a look at comics for fans of the works of Franz Kafka.
Franz Kafka was a Czech writer who would go on to be one of the most well known names in modern literature, even though not being successful as an author during his life. Kafka’s novels and short stories are at times hard to fully describe and that appears to be by design at times. Franz Kafka excelled at presenting the fantastic and surreal in stories like, as mundane in stories like The Metamorphosis and A Country Doctor and being sarcastically dismissive of social institutions in novels like The Trial. He then coupled that with a habit of keeping any overt message, meaning, or interpretation close to his chest. This created an ambiguity that has led to readers and scholars debating and theorizing his works for over 100 years and creators trying their hand at being “Kafkaesque” every chance they can. David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, David Croenberg, and Yorgos Lanthimos have all created things that have been considered heavily influenced by Franz Kafka.
Without further ado though, here are a pair of comic recommendations that manage to capture the feeling of being stuck between reality and the surreal, like a good Kafka story does.
Writer: Franz Kafka, Peter Kuper
Artist: Peter Kuper
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
A common response to reading a Kafka story is a sense of bewilderment, basically a “What did I just read?” feeling. It’s this feeling that is so wonderfully captured in this collection, it also just so happens that it creates this feeling by using Kafka’s stories. This a collection of 14 Kafka stories interpreted by Peter Kuper, who’s probably best known for his Spy Vs. Spy comic strips from MAD Magazine. Rather than going for just straight adaptations of Franz’s short stories, Peter Kuper only uses the words he absolutely needs, but leaves a lot of the storytelling up to his art, which itself toes a line between engrossing and unsettling. Many of the stories featured in this collection are considered very metaphoric by themselves, yet in this collection, those metaphors are suddenly turned visual which changes them and gives these stories an even deeper meaning that’s ripe for both fans of Kafka and newcomers to the author, to unravel.
Writer: Sean Lewis
Artist: Caitlin Yarsky
Publisher: Image Comics
The term “Kafkaesque” is one whose definition has been debated on for a while now. Some believe that it is reserved for experiences similar to the characters in Franz’s stories who struggle against bureaucracy. Others feel that it is best described by situations that have one foot in realism and one in fantasy. We’re going to go with the latter here. Bliss is a relatively new comic series that tells the story of a man who agrees to be a hitman for a trio of gods and the effects this decision has on his son and everything else. While this may not be as ambiguous or metaphorical as Kafka’s work, what it nails completely is how it accepts more surreal and strange things as mundane parts of everyday life. Everything in this series feels just slightly askew, like it’s familiar but completely foreign at the same time. Being that it’s a newer series, as of the writing of this there’s a collected edition available for pre-order. But, the individual issues aren’t hard to come by either.
What did you think of these recommendations? Do you have suggestions of your own? What’s your favorite Kafka story? Let us know in the comments section below.