Kafka: A Graphic Novel by Robert Crumb and David Zane Mairowitz

Posted: January 9, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

Before opening this graphic novel I had only read Kafka’s short story, The Hunger Artist, and learned a bit about Kafka’s life. This novel, by Robert Crumb and David Zane Mairowitz delves into Kafka’s major life experiences (or issues if you will) and some of his major works. The graphic novel covers the arch of his life, from childhood to his death, primarily using quotes from Kafka as captions for the imagery. Unlike many graphic novels I’ve read previously, Crumb and Mairowitz also include textual comments throughout the novel interspersed with the images and their captions. The drawings are in black and white, which I think is excellent and powerful. Had the imagery been colorful, or even three toned colors it would have detracted from the spooky form of the novel. Even with a smattering of experience with Kafka’s work and background, I felt a more complete understanding of the fear and inability to engage emotionally through the visual interpretations of his written work. If visual art can be Kafkaesque, Crumb and Mairowitz have accomplished it.

I found the depictions of eyes, throughout the graphic novel, to be particularly spooky. On page 30 Kafka’s father is portrayed with blank eyes and the caption reads “He’s still a giant, my father”. The next panel then shows Kafka himself with the same blank eyes. It’s a powerful way of showing that he and his father don’t see eye to eye. A friend of mine once said that the eyes are the window to the soul. I feel, in this case, Kafka and his father have both closed their souls off from each other. It’s a striking image that visually explores the depth (or lack of) of their father son relationship issues. Giving both characters also shows that they’ve cut themselves off emotionally from the rest of the world; they are devoid of normal human emotional interaction. This certainly seems to be Kafka’s feelings towards his father, and is exhibited by his lifelong inability to commit to a serious interpersonal relationship with anyone other than his pen, ink, and paper. Later, on page 72, Kafka’s eyes are drawn with circular lines and no pupil. Crumb uses text to explain that writing was a form of self-hypnosis for Kafka–hence the concentric circles representing his eyes. This symbol of hypnosis is exceptionally haunting. Kafka almost appears as though he were inhuman, just as he often imagines himself to be in his written work.

Crumb has used the eye as a symbol to convey many personal emotions of the characters, but also of the relationships that exist between them and the world that surrounds them. I’ve read some of Kafka’s work, and some criticism of his work, but these images have conveyed more deeply the fear and absurd ideas that Kafka exhibited in his personal life and writings. The combination of textual narrative, direct quotes, literary work, and graphic images come together to portray a complete and eerie depiction of Kafka’s life. In one word–intense.

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Comments
  1. Me says:

    Good points, I think I will definitely subscribe! I’ll go and read some more! What do you see the future of this being?

  2. Sarah Snow says:

    If you mean the future of non-fiction graphic novels, I think they will become more and more popular and more respected as a literary genre than comics have previously enjoyed.

    🙂 Thanks for subscribing!

  3. […] Kakfa–Graphic Novel, by R. Crumb and David Zane Mairowitz […]

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