By Stuart Mitchner
Green energy! Even though those two words underscore issues like climate change and sustainability, my first thought is of the green energy of poetry, of the “goat-footed balloon man” of e.e. cummings “blowing far and wee when all the world is mud-luscious and puddle-lovely” and of Dylan Thomas’s “force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” From there, primal word-association brings forth comic strip images of the superhero energy of The Green Hornet reincarnated in DC comics’ Green Lantern (“Beware My Power”), which inspires in turn fantasies of Henry David Thoreau as a graphic super hero, the Wizard of Walden, and Melville’s Moby-Dick reduced to the energy-efficient size of a Save the Whale comic book.
In fact, a British graphic artist named Nick Hayes has produced The Rime of the Modern Mariner (Viking), a green redo of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s immortal Rime. In an article on the Sierra Club website (“4 Thought-Provoking Graphic Novels About the Environment”), Chelsea Leu notes that Hayes has the mariner shoot the albatross with a gun rather than a crossbow and uses Coleridge’s “naturalistic ideas to illustrate (literally) the frightening 21st-century environmental issues we face” in a world Hayes calls “detached from consequence.” After killing the albatross, the modern mariner “sees all manner of horrors — a North Pacific drilling barge leaking a ‘glossy thick petroleum slick,’ swaths of polystyrene bobbing in the heart of the North Pacific gyre, and nylon netting in the body of the albatross itself — all rendered in precise but nightmarish line art.” During a “lavishly illustrated dream sequence, the mariner comes to an understanding of his place in nature, a sort of rebirth that has him feeling truly interconnected with life on earth.” Hayes also manages to work in jawbreakers like “polymethyl methacrylate” and “Themisto gaudichaudii,” presumably without undue damage to the original meter and rhyme scheme. Whole pages of “painstakingly detailed” drawing are devoted to a single elegant line of verse, accomplished with art that is “streaky and ragged or simple and clean-cut in all the right places.”
Another graphic adventure is Philippe Squarzoni’s Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science (Harry N. Abrams), a 480-page novel in images about the author’s quest to educate himself on the basics. As “meticulously researched as it is illustrated,” Climate Changed is, in Leu’s words, “a crash course on the science, explaining everything from how the emissions in our atmosphere contribute to warming to the benefits and pitfalls of our renewable energy options.” A starred review in Publishers Weekly credits Squarzoni for taking on “one of the most important topics of our time” in a form “that is dense but comprehensible, informative and fascinating.”
The other two graphic books on the Sierra Club list are John Muir, Earth – Planet Universe, by Julie Bertagna with illustrations by William Goldsmith, and I’m Not a Plastic Bag by Rachel Hope Allison. more