CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For the first time, a work by Ayn Rand has been adapted into comic-book form. "Anthem," the philosopher and novelist's 1938 novella, has been turned into a graphic novel. It is adapted by Charles Santino and drawn by Joe Staton.
Santino has taken Rand's cautionary tale about the future and turned it into a great little post-apocalyptic adventure tale. Rand's idea of a society that condemns individuality works quite well in this adaption.
"Anthem" tells the story of Equality7-2521, a street sweeper who lives in the dark ages of the future -- a future where all decisions are made by committee and individualism has been outlawed.
Aside from the simplistic theme (individuality is good) and the implied theme (governments will try to wipe out individuality), "Anthem" is a fun little story of one guy fighting the system, and this format makes for an entertaining read.
Santino has shaped the story into a stirring adventure. He does a great job conveying the isolation of Equality 7-2521, using sparse dialogue.
Joe Staton's art is a revelation. I've been a fan of Staton since the mid-1970s, and I've always been impressed with his versatility and storytelling ability. Rather than being a slave to realism, Staton mixes a healthy dose of classic cartooning into his art, and it makes his work very distinctive.
In "Anthem," Staton's art has been reproduced directly from his penciled artwork. Normally, comic book art is "inked," a process where an artist (usually a different one), goes over the pencil artwork in ink so it can be reproduced more clearly.
It's clear from seeing his work in "Anthem" that Staton has not always been well served by his inkers. The line quality on display here is stunning, and this might be some of the best work I've seen from him. He's working in a confined format here -- three panels per page on every page, but the composition within the panels is so strong that you don't miss the flashy layouts that are so common in contemporary comics.
This graphic novel gives you the feel of looking through really high-quality storyboards for a movie. In fact, if anyone ever wanted to film "Anthem," they've got their script and storyboards here.
If you're a fan of the original work, you should get a real kick out of this comic-book version. If you're not familiar with Rand, this is a good introduction.
The comic-book historians out there might think I'm glossing over the Ayn Rand-inspired work by Steve Ditko (the reclusive co-creator of "Spider-Man"), but his "Mr. A" comics, although clearly influenced by Rand's Objectivism, are not direct adaptations of her work. Still, they are marvelously crafted and seriously disturbing, so you might want to seek them out.
"Anthem" is published by New American Library, with a list price of $15. You can order it from Amazon or locally from Taylor Books. It's being solicited through comic shops this month, too, so you might want to check with Lost Legion Comics and Games/The Rifleman, on the West Side, too.
Read more of Panucci at his PopCult blog at thegazz.com/popcult.