“The Man Who Became an Insect”: Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’ as Comic Book

 Exhibit / March 12, 2020

Object Name: Vidas Ilustres: “El Hombre Que Se Convirtirio En Un Insecto”
Maker and Year: Editorial Novaro, 1973
Object Type: Comic book
Description: (Richard McKenna)

Coming out every month between 1956 and 1974, Vidas Ilustres (“Illustrious Lives”)—was a monthly Mexican comic published by Editorial Novaro, each issue of which looked at the exceptional achievements of a man—it was always a man, with the two exceptions of Madame Curie and Florence Nightingale—in the arts or sciences. Over its 332 editions, Vidas Ilustres covered a vastly eclectic range of subjects, ranging from Anatole France, Orson Welles, HP Lovecraft, Mishima, Jung, Hokusai, Charles Fort, Gandhi, Simón Bolívar, Confucius, and Martin Luther King, even finding space for an astonishing eight comics on Balzac.

Founded by brothers Luis and Octavio Novaro in the early ’50s, Editorial Novaro had started by publishing reprints of foreign comics like Batman and Tintin, but in 1954 the company began putting out its own stirringly-titled Vidas Ejemplares (“Exemplary Lives”), comic book biographies of notable figures in the Catholic Church. The series was a hit, and like-minded titles like Patronos y Santuarios (“Patron Saints and Sanctuaries”) soon followed.

Luckily, the  company’s other publications also included less pious fare, like Mujeres Célebres, a comic devoted to famous women that was published from 1961 to 1974 and included issues on Eleanor Roosevelt, Josephine Baker, Jean Harlow, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, and Greek poet Sappho. Its publications from the time used a slightly stiff font for lettering imposed by a regulatory body called the Qualifying Commission for Illustrated Magazines and Publications (made up of members of the Mexican Ministry of Public Education and created mainly to assuage the reactionary Catholic Legion of Decency) with the aim of protecting young readers from eye damage.

Most editions of Vidas Ilustres dealt purely with the biographical details of the person in question, but in the Obras Inmortales (“Immortal Works”) series the comic would dramatize not only their lives but also a famous work of their oeuvre—perhaps following the popular American line Classics Illustrated. This was the case with “El Hombre Que Se Convirtirio En Un Insecto”—“The Man Who Became an Insect.” Though not enormously faithful to Kafka’s original, “El Hombre Que Se Convirtirio En Un Insecto” does, in its lurid way, somehow retain the mood and intent of The Metamorphosis, its cover evoking perfectly the juvenile horror-story thrill that first drew me—and perhaps many others—to Kafka’s work.

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