Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Don Quixote by Cervantes/Davis

A page from Don Quixote vol 2
Cervantes/Davis (2013)
As a belated birthday present, I bought myself Don Quixote volume 2, adapted by Rob Davis from the 1615 novel by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.

Like the first volume, it's the funny, strange and moving tale of a deluded old man who thinks he's a knight, and the idiot "squire" who follows after him in the hope the delusions prove true. They traipse the countryside looking for chances to be brave and virtuous and generally get beaten up for their trouble.

In this second volume, they must contend with people who've read the first one, as well as characters set on revenge and those just taking the piss. It's a sadder story - as much because of those who take advantage of Quixote as because of his failing health. And yet there are still plenty of laughs.

I've been fascinated by Quixote since an A-level art trip to see lots of paintings in London. We'd done the National Gallery and what's now Tate Britain and were hitting sensory overload as we reached the Courtauld. And there, not on our syllabus, was a portrait by Daumier that's haunted me ever since.
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza
Honoré Daumier c. 1870
Courtauld Gallery, London
I can think of no higher praise for Rob's adaptation than that its reminiscent of Daumier, the same simple colours and skeletal silhouettes, the same skinny bleakness. He packs character and feeling into simple, quick sketches - Rob's own How to adapt Don Quixote into a graphic novel in seven easy steps gives a fascinating, detailed account of his working methods and the alarming speed at which he had to write it.

I know Rob's work from the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip and the Horrible Histories books, and met him very briefly when he signed my copy of Nelson. But as I read the book - and his post on adapting it - I found I had nagging questions. It's a huge undertaking and he did it alone. Quixote has defeated adapters before: Orson Welles failed to complete his movie version; it's eluded Terry Gilliam twice.

(Cervantes also suffered: he based Quixote on his own failures, having been a quartermaster to the doomed Spanish Armada, he was jailed for confiscating grain belonging to the church and then spent 10 years in debtors' prison. After the first volume of Don Quixote was published in 1604, there were bootleg copies and a a fake sequel. He work that into his own volume 2, but died soon after its publication.)

There are inevitable allusions to be drawn: how quixotic is adapting Quixote? Rob very kindly answered my questions:

How much did volume 2 depend on sales / the success of volume 1? 
Rob Davis: The contract was for two books so volume 2 was never dependent on sales. The thinking behind splitting the book back into its original form gave me the chance to get a book out each year, gave the the project greater shelf life and crucially made real the gap between the two halves of the story.

How much is the style influenced by previous depictions of Quixote? I was thinking especially of Daumier.
RD: Very little if I'm honest. I used previous interpretations for reference, but stylistically it's more about my ideas for drawing comics.

You mention in your seven easy steps piece that you used different editions of Quixote, but how much research did you do into Cervantes and the book?
RD: Hard to quantify. I usually make the point that my adaptation is my reading of the book and most of my referencing came from reading different translations or abridged versions. I read a few accounts of Cervantes' life, but the character of Cervantes in my books is really the authorial character he creates in his narration.

Cervantes seems to have ended up mad and penniless after writing the book(s). How's it going for you? :) 
RD: Yep, I'm flat broke and berserk now. Between the two volumes I split from my wife, left my home and children, lost several months in the bottom of a whisky bottle and ran up insurmountable debts. It was a mad book to adapt and therefore my own sanity must be questionable. But I take some pride from the fact that I finished it (unlike Gilliam and Welles). Glad you enjoyed the book, knowing that people are getting something from it humbles me and makes me happy.

Visit Rob's website: Dinlos and Skilldos

No comments: