The Poem as Comic Strip
Kicking off our new poetry and comics series is David Heatley, who brings his faux-naïve draftsmanship and masterful color sense to the first two stanzas of Diane Wakoski’s 1966 poem “Belly Dancer.”
Heightened language—one possible or partial definition of poetry—isn’t the first thing one associates with comics. Yet comic book artists take into account the way words appear on the page to a degree poets will find familiar. How many lines should accompany each image? How high should the dialogue balloon float? The ratio of printed words to blank space plays a role in whether a poem or strip succeeds.
The best of the daily humor strips (think Peanuts) have produced thousands of word-and-picture episodes that occupy about the same thought-space as a good short poem; the terseness can resemble haiku. Then there is Krazy Kat, George Herriman’s polyphonic masterpiece that appeared in William Randolph Hearst’s papers from 1913 to 1944 —a comic feature so blessedly idiosyncratic in its dialects that the only way to start making sense of what’s said is by reading it aloud, like a poem.
As a way to help readers discover (or rediscover) our archive, poetryfoundation.org has invited some of today’s most vital graphic novelists to interpret a poem of their choice from the more than 4,500 poems in our archive, reaching from Beowulf to the present.
Kicking things off is David Heatley, best known for his meticulous renderings of his dreams, always haunting and frequently hilarious. Heatley brings his faux-naïve draftsmanship and masterful color sense to the first two stanzas of Diane Wakoski’s 1966 poem “Belly Dancer.” According to Heatley, “I picked the poem because my work tends to deal with sexuality. My book Overpeck features a teenage girl dealing with her abuse issues while coming to terms with her newfound supernatural abilities: namely, turning herself into a duck so she can hide or fly away.
“Wakoski is writing her poem for the women of the early ’60s, daring them to become more sexual and inhabit their bodies,” he continues. “I liked the tension and dissonance of translating some of those themes into my work.”
David Heatley is the author of Overpeck, a graphic novella to be published in spring 2008. My Brain is Hanging Upside Down, a collection of dream, portrait, and diary comics will be published in the fall of 2008. His comics and drawings have appeared in The Best American Comics 2007,...
Poet and essayist Diane Wakoski was born in Whittier, California. She earned her BA from the University of California-Berkeley, where she studied with poets such as Thom Gunn and Josephine Miles. After finishing her BA Wakoski moved to New York City, where Hawk’s Well Press, the press founded by Jerome...