It has been noted that true artistic ferment, of the renaissance-inducing kind, is the province of second-cities. The second-cities collect the odds and ends of culture not gobbled up by the leviathan majors, and offer an artist freedom to synthesize the material in unforeseen ways. So if you take an accomplished comic-book artist, plop him in Philadelphia, subject him to day-long readings of James Joyce’s Ulysses at a famous book museum, and inject a catalytic amount of beer, what do you get? Well, you get this, actually.
“Ulysses ‘SEEN’” is the inaugural project of Throwaway Horse LLC. Throwaway Horse is devoted to fostering understanding of public domain literary masterworks by joining the visual aid of the graphic novel with the explicatory aid of the internet. By creating “Web 2.0” versions of these works, we hope to proliferate and help to not only preserve them, but ensure their continued vitality and relevance. Throwaway Horse projects are meant to be mere companion pieces to the works themselves—by outfitting the reader with the familiar gear of the comic narrative and the progressive gear of web annotations, we hope that a tech-savvy new generation of readers will be able to cut through jungles of unfamiliar references and appreciate the subtlety and artistry of the original books themselves which they otherwise might have neglected.
Ulysses is uniquely suited to this treatment. The Throwaway Horse members love this book, and it kills us that it has gotten the reputation for being inaccessible to everyone besides the English professors who make their careers teaching the book to future English professors who will make their careers doing the same. ‘Tweren’t supposed to be that way. It is a funny, sometimes scatological, book about the triumphs and failures of hum-drum, every day life. It makes heroes out of schlubs and cuts the epic down to size. And its elitist reputation has placed it well on its way to being as relevant to our cultural currency as conjugating Latin.
It is Joycean cliché to point out that he put enough puzzles and riddles in Ulysses to keep professors busy for a century. If the professors can’t figure it out, what about the rest of us?. Rob Berry, the artist that conceived this mad undertaking, eases us into turn of the (20th) century Ireland, and the book’s challenging treatment of time and action, through the familiar language of comic books. And Mike Barsanti, our resident scholar, uses the infinite resources of the web (not to mention his own estimable insight) to tame the million and one references and allusions in the book to the point where they’ll fetch your slippers and the morning paper.
Growing up in and around downtown Detroit artist Robert Berry attended Wayne State University to study painting, showed in numerous galleries in the city and read quite a lot of comicbooks. He moved to Philadelphia and away from the comfortable nest of easel painting to make stories. Somewhere in that nebulous zone between webcomics and film there seems to be a new kind of story-media forming which has taken his attention away from narrative painting (though he still spends inordinate amounts of time trying to make pretty pictures).
Josh Levitas has been an artist and a fan of literature for his entire life. As a child he was surrounded by his father’s impressive library of great literary works, and he was THAT guy in your English class (or at least in his). Having caught the ULYSSES bug in a big way, he is thrilled to be playing the role of graphic/web designer and production artist on this phenomenal project. In his other life, he has created illustration and graphic design for such clients as The Lovin’ Spoonful; Blood, Sweat and Tears; and Barnes and Noble.com.
Chad A. Rutkowski is a Philadelphia copyright lawyer who has been a devoted Ulysses “trekkie” since taking a semester-long class on the book at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey. He took law classes one summer at Trinity College in Dublin just to eat at Davy Byrnes, stand atop the tower at Sandycove, and lounge around the rhododendrons at Howth’s Head. Now he compliments his law practice with managing the business and legal affairs of Throwaway Horse LLC.
Janine Utell thinks Ulysses is really just a book about a marriage and everything else is people making it all much too complicated. At least, that’s what she says in her book James Joyce and the Revolt of Love. She also believes the best way to read the novel is with a group of like-minded smart folks who all have something interesting to say. This is why she facilitated the Ulysses Reading Group at the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia while working as Bloomsday Coordinator for a couple of years, and why she talked a bunch of strangers into meeting once a month in Philly for a Finnegans Wake Reading Group (contrary to rumor, it was not because this is the only way she can make friends). Janine also teaches 20th century British literature at Widener University, where every few years she leads a group of erstwhile English majors through Ulysses and invites local scholars to speak on campus (let her know if you’re interested and willing to do it for a beer).