The following is an interview with Julian Peters regarding the recent release of his genre-bending book, Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry, from Plough Publishing Press. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Peters about the inspiration behind this ambitious endeavor, his creative process in adapting poetry to a visual medium, the impact that the anthology may have with readers, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the recent release of your poetry comics anthology, Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry, through Plough Publishing Press! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the concept of the anthology, and what inspired you to take on this groundbreaking project?
Julian Peters: Thank you! Poems to See By is an anthology of 24 classic English-language poems presented in the form of comics. The book makes use of the symbiotic image/text relationship that is characteristic of comics, pairing the original lines of poetry with comics drawings to bring out the meanings of the poems in new ways.
Although this is the first book-length collection of my “poetry comics,” I’ve actually been making these kinds of works for over a decade now, and even much earlier, actually, as I recently rediscovered a comics version of Scottish poet Robbie Burns’ poem, “Scots Wha Hae,” that I drew when I was ten years old.
BD: The anthology deftly adapts well-known poems through a visual medium. What can you share with us about your creative process in interpreting the poems artistically, and what have been some of your creative influences?
JP: Each of the visual adaptations featured in the anthology has its own visual style, which generally seeks to capture the particular atmosphere and feeling that each poem spontaneously evoked in me as I would read it. Since comics are an inherently narrative medium, I also try to find a way to superimpose some kind of more-or-less defined story arc on to the poem, which may be suggested by the order in which the various poetic images in the original text appear or reappear. In terms of influences, I should mention that I grew up partly in Italy, where there is a long tradition of introducing young readers to classic literature through comics. It was my childhood and adolescent readings of these comics adaptations of famous short stories, novels, and plays that gave me something of an initial template for attempting to do the same with poetry.
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Poems to See By will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this project was important for you to bring to life?
JP: Poetry can seem intimidating to many readers, and my hope is that these visual interpretations will provide a more accessible entry point into an understanding and appreciation of this beautiful, but somewhat neglected, literary art form. As for those who already love poetry, these comics can provide them with an opportunity to experience some of their favorite poems in a new way and from another perspective.
BD: The anthology not only provides your artistic interpretations of the poems, but the original written work itself. Do you feel that this juxtaposition of the content may provide assistance to those who may struggle with reading comprehension?
JP: I think it’s quite natural that, after reading a comics adaptation of a poem, readers would want to see what the poetic text looks like in its original form. For those who are having difficulty with reading comprehension, being able to easily flip back and forth between the two versions should facilitate the comics version’s use as a kind of visual guide through the original poem.
BD: What makes Plough Publishing Press the perfect home for Poems to See By?
JP: Plough Publishing Press was founded one hundred years, but it’s only in the last few that they’ve begun publishing comics. In this short period, however, they’ve come out with some exceptional publications in that medium, including a comics biography of Martin Luther and a graphic novel about Nelson Mandela written by John Carlin, who also wrote the book which formed the basis for the Clint Eastwood film, Invictus. I’m proud to share a publisher with these works. Long before the book project with Plough had begun to take shape, I published a number of poetry comics in their magazine, Plough Quarterly. I was really impressed by its wide-ranging and thoughtful articles, as well as its attention to design and frequent inclusion of traditional illustration, and I was confident that the publishing house would do a great job with the book.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
JP: At the moment, I’m working on a presentation brochure in comics form for the new MA Programme in Comics Studies at the University of East Anglia, which is the first program of its kind in the world. I’m also working on brief comics introductions to the life and work of Carl Sagan, as well as to the Sherlock Holmes’s story, “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” both of which are to be used in grade school textbooks in India. More in the long term, I’ve begun writing the text component for a personal illustrated book project that will combine my fascination with nineteenth-century Japanese landscape prints and literary depictions of surreal and fantastical places, such as in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Poems to See By and your other work?
JP: You can view copious amounts of my work on my website, julianpeterscomics.com, and more recent creations and work-in-progress images on my Instagram account (@julianpeterscomics). I’m also publishing updates on the upcoming book and other projects on my Twitter page (@jpeterscomics) and on my Facebook artist’s page, under Julian Peters Comics.