Masterpiece Comics (Drawn & Quarterly)

masterpiece_header.bmpR. Sikoryak mashes up classic comics and classic literature.




66 pgs. FC; $19.95
(W / A: R. Sikoryak)
R. Sikoryak’s Masterpiece Comics anthology begins with a copyright page that has a parody of the classic comic-book X-Ray specs ad. It reads “Imagine holding a comic book in front of you. Reading closely allows you to ‘see’ beneath the juvenile 4-color images to a world of deep emotional resonance and significant artistic merit. Look at all the friendly characters. Aren’t they somehow tragic now?”
It’s a great dig at eggheads like me who persist in looking for an adult experience in what, for the first ¾ of its existence, has been a children’s medium. It’s a great swipe at how we divide culture into “high” and “low” designations, too.
And it’s the perfect joke-with-a-wink to set up a collection of “mash-ups” of classic comics and classic literature. Sikoryak, a New Yorker illustrator and an animator for The Daily Show, combines Garfield with Dr. Faustus, Mary Worth with Macbeth, Batman’s Detective Comics with Crime and Punishment, and so on, to hypnotic effect.
He’s an astounding mimic. His Garfield has all the maddeningly rounded characters and objects of Jim Davis’ abomination of cuteness. His Bazooka Joe has the particular simplicity of those tiny strips. His Little Nemo reeks of that early 20th century Winsor McCay thick-lined, stiff precision. It’s the sort of attention to detail that must make his fellow artists (and graphic design types) bow to his corner.
And when he’s being witty, Masterpiece Comics is a treasure. Imagining Kafka’s miserable human cockroach as Charlie Brown is so obvious you wonder why somebody hadn’t already thought of it. A gallery of classic Superman Action Comics covers becomes “Action Camus,” and our hero becomes Camus’ paralyzed antiheroes, trafficking in futility and folly. Similarly, Beavis and Butthead take on existential roles in a Samuel Beckett riff, “Waiting to Go.” Turns out the MTV cartoon slackers and Beckett’s frustrated tramps had more in common than most of us realized. Pairing the pithy little Bazooka Joe strips with Dante’s Inferno is a stroke of genius (“Fortune: A Winged Beast Will Take You for A Ride”).
Other re-workings are so literal you wonder when the fun’s going to start. For instance, in the Garfield mash-up, there are a few perfect opportunities for the famously gluttonous cat to inhale some food in the frame, or at least launch one of his stupid one-liners about it. Not happenin’. Batman as Raskolnikov, or “Raskol,” is inspired fun – both are tormented characters, but Bob Kane’s idiosyncratic crime fighter is lost in Dostoyevsky’s world. Couldn’t he have swung from a building at some point or something?
The flattest entry here is surely “The Crypt of Bronte,” which is Wuthering Heights a la The Vault of Horror. At 14 pages, it’s a humorless encapsulation of the melodramatic classic that’s so literal it might as well be an issue of Classics Illustrated. That is to say, Sikoryak’s visual parody is once again pitch-perfect, but more cheekiness would be welcome.
At 12” by 9.5”, this oversized hardback with brilliant coloring is a feast. “Intellectuoids,” as my friend Todd Schneider used to call our set, won’t be able to resist its mix of sharp parody and fertile, crossbred inventiveness. | Byron Kerman
For more info, visit R. Sikoryak’s site at, and click here for a 7-page excerpt courtesy of NPR.




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