I first read Allen Ginsburg’s Howl: The Graphic Novel many years ago. I was familiar with the poem, of course, but every time I read it I find something else. I do not know how many times I have read it and even after all those readings, I still do not understand it. In fact, I think if you say you do understand Howl, you are not being truthful. There are too many references the modern reader would not get. However, you get the jest: Sex. Drugs. And Rock-n-Roll. There is too much to really say what Ginsberg was thinking. Having heard him read a few years before his death, I am not sure if Ginsberg himself knew what he wrote. (This is all in my humble opinion and not based in science at all).
With all of that said, I am amazed that a poem written in the mid-1950s is still being read. Let alone being put into a graphic novel format or having movies made of it.
After that first reading, I watched the movie of the same name, starring James Franco. Putting aside recent events with Franco, this is a good movie. Franco captured the essence of Ginsberg. The movie tells you about the creation Howl and the aftermath. The graphic novel captures the poem as well. It picks up all the words, emotions and puts in a bit of modern thought, too. Ginsburg’s words are genius, obscene, nonsense. Eric Drooker’s illustrations brings it all together and the characters almost come alive on the page. Everything is dark and shadows. The light is strategically placed so you see the silhouette of the man in the car. The man stands in front of the woman’s crotch….as her legs are a full spread over two pages. The neck of the bottle going into the mouth of the man could not be more phallic unless it was a man’s member itself.
This second reading of the graphic novel reminds me why people think Ginsberg great. Why he was translated into many language (even Polish, which I used to have a copy of the poem in. Though, I could not read a word of it.) Ginsberg could turn a phrase. He could make something that seems like nothing into something. And like any poem, I think you just have to take from it what you take from it. Whatever that is.