Writer: John Reppion
Artist: Mark Penman
Independently published, 2021
Aficionadoes of medieval English will enjoy this new interpretation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a tale written in around 1350AD and forming part of the canon of the tales of Camelot. Appropriately, it is put together by two Englishmen, John Reppion and Mark Penman.
Any review of an Arthurian legend requires the critic to arm themselves with the sword of symbolic interpretation, and a dog-eared copy of La Morte d’Artur as a shield. Messrs Reppion and Penman have decided to spare their readership the Middle English version of the tale with its bob and wheel pentameter. Instead, we have an intermingling of narrative by rhyme and contemporary English dialogue.
Interestingly, the creative team have confined themselves to three colours: black, red and green. Red is the colour of both passion and martyrdom. There is no mystery around why Sir Gawain is coloured red: he offers himself up to the Green Knight’s game, and then keeps to his chivalric oath to meet the Green Knight’s axe in a year (and here, again, red is important – in Medieval Christendom, calendars were writing in red, giving us “red letter days”).
The colour green is inevitable, given the subject matter. But green is symbolic of rebirth and fertility – the Green Knight’s ability to survive decapitation is better thought of as a manifestation of an over-abundance of life – and through out story the Green Knight is surrounded by leaves and trees.
We found the colours startling – the green is extremely bright, pervasive, and contrasts spectacularly with the red so as to precisely delineate the major characters. And the drawings themselves have a decidedly woodblock feel to them: some of the leaves especially (see the image above) could be derived from decorative woodwork.
But it is Mr Penman’s layouts which steal the show. In this particular panel below, Sir Gawain is depicted as a fox. Foxes are traditionally regarded as crafty and untrustworthy. They do not run in a straight line. It is an interesting interpretation of Sir Gawain’s character, especially having regard to his interaction with Lady Bertilak. Sir Gawain is not really a duplicitous and cunning fox, even in the eyes of Lord Bertilak, who knows how the fox runs into a trap. Sir Gawain is quarry, pursued by the hunt.
We have a few complaints about this title. First, the comic has been put together as a ‘zine. A production of this calibre deserves a better physical format than folded A3 paper bound with two staples. The creators vastly undersell themselves. Second, in this rendition, Sir Gawain was clearly seduced by Lady Bertilak, not merely “kissed”, evidenced by her hand hovering over his exposed lower stomach. The traditional tension within the tale between honour (being a guest of his host) and knightly duties (obeying a damsel) seems trampled by that panel. Sir Gawain here seems to have consummated his desire – he did not show resistance to temptation, but outright lied to Lord Bertilak de Hautdesert and certainly deserved more than a nick of the axe. Perhaps we are too churlish, but the burly Lord Bertilak might have taken from Sir Gawain exactly what Lady Bertilak gave to Sir Gawain. The knight would have been somewhat less pious by the end of that version of the tale.
What is it at the moment with knights? This is not the only comic book adaption of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in recent times. Emily Cheeseman released her own version https://www.emilycheeseman.com/greenknight/ in 2017, with art inspired by Alphonse Mucha rather than Caxton. Our colleague Terry Hammond also recently reviewed Once & Future https://www.worldcomicbookreview.com/2022/01/20/once-future-review-the-night-reawakens/ and Quick the Clockwork Knight https://www.worldcomicbookreview.com/2022/01/14/quick-the-clockwork-knight-the-haunted-tower-review/ . Culture augury is an excuse for doom-scrolling, the compulsive consumption of magazines and comics, and for MMORPGs, but we nonetheless do not like the way the bones are rolling in respect of the quiet resurgence of the Western knightly adventure. In between these comics and the commercial success of The Witcher, the rise of pop consumption of heraldry to us suggests the desire for a noble war where the combatants are easily recognised by their pennants. We were bothered by the tarot-esque insight that Sir Gawain here carries a red shield embossed with a star on his long journey, and is compelled to a showdown by honour. (Thank goodness Game of Thrones has ended.)
The creators of this interpretation have a very quiet Patreon site: patreon.com/penmanreppion . They launched the title at the UK Thought Bubble comic book festival last year.