The story of Gawain and the Green Knight is the stuff of Arthurian legend with the first written account going back to the Middle Ages. Hot on the heels of David Lowery’s powerful film version earlier this year comes a new graphic novel from writer John Reppion and artist MD Penman, ready for its debut at this month’s Thought Bubble.
Publisher: Reppion and Penman/Patreon
Writer: John Reppion
Artist: MD Penman
Reppion and Penman retell a familiar tale of King Arthur’s nephew, Gawain, challenged by the sinister Green Knight to strike him with his axe on any part of his body. The knight claims that he will only retaliate after the challenger has made his move. The cocky Gawain strikes the Knight’s head clean off, only for the Knight to pick it up and leave, pausing to say to Gawain that he’ll see him at the same time the following year when it’s his turn to strike back. It’s a great story that has been interpreted in many different ways. Sometimes Gawain is a bold Knight on a noble quest to protect Camelot, sometimes he’s a symbol of the arrogance of youth, lying to all around him to convince them that he’s worthy on knighthood. Which path do Reppion and Penman take us down?
John Reppion is no stranger to folklore, writing about the esoteric in The Fortean Times, Darklore and History UK, as well as reinterpreting staples of popular culture in comic book form, from Dracula and Sherlock Holmes to the classic British comic characters of the past in Albion, alongside wife Leah Moore and father-in-law Alan. Reppion manages to make the tale of Gawain exciting and accessible without unnecessarily altering it to somehow make it “relevant” to a contemporary audience. If you know your Arthurian folklore, you won’t feel as though you’re being talked down to. If you are a complete novice, you won’t feel lost. That’s quite an achievement.
The artwork from MD Penman (Eimurian Tales) is delightful and sinister simultaneously. His clean lines and blocks of colour at times suggest an innocence and simplicity that is at odds with such a dark tale but there is more here than meets the eye. When the Green Knight appears, he seems a jolly soul, a mix of Father Christmas and the Ghost of Christmas Past but… there’s something just not right about him. The eyes just that bit too far apart, the smile before his head is severed…Perhaps the most striking element here is Penman’s use of colour, specifically bold blocks of red and green, reminding us continually of the inevitable clash between man (red) and nature (green). At times the art is only coloured in either shades of green or red, calling to mind the old Marvel UK weeklies of the 1970s or the IPC annuals at Christmas, another nod to a bygone age of heroes and villains and perhaps simpler times.
As I mentioned earlier, Reppion knows his myths and legends. The book comes with a detailed afterward, detailing the history of the legend of Gawain and the Green Knight, complete with footnotes. If, like me, you are interested in the source material this is an interesting and informative bonus. If, however, you are simply looking for a retelling of the story, you might find this to be an unnecessary addition. If the film has piqued your curiosity, you have more than a passing interest in folklore or you want to take something original home from your visit to Thought Bubble, you should take a look at Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.