Poet and translator Carson and artist Bruno find dark humor in the collapse of civilization in their graphic novel adaptation of Euripides’s The Trojan Women (New Directions).
How did this project come about?
Carson: It’s a play about the folly and horror of war, and we seem to be in a world where there’s an endless number of foolish, horrible wars. I had seen that Rosie did a book about Emily Dickinson that was both acute and funny, and those are adjectives you could apply to Euripides, oddly enough. Together we devised the idea of having all the characters be animals. I was trying to fit the animal to the particular suffering of each of the characters. Andromache is the only one who isn’t an animal, and she’s a big tree branch with a small tree branch as her son.
Bruno: A little sap.
Carson: Don’t let Rosie get off on the puns.
Bruno: I have to show you this sticker book that Anne got me, of dogs. And she just wrote a very short note saying, “Maybe we could introduce the chorus with dog mug shots.” It was the moment I realized that now I can do almost anything in this interpretation.
I was struck by Hekabe’s line, “We can’t go on. We go on.” How did you negotiate the tension in the book between survivorship, pain, and humor?
Carson: Hekabe, this Trojan queen who is destroyed, is at this stage of laughing at herself because there’s no other emotion left except for the absolute absurdity of being so reduced.
Bruno: I have that line clipped and hanging on my refrigerator. It’s a reminder, even in the time we’re in now, of what we have to do. It was a hopeful thing to build the drawings on.
To what extent were you thinking about contemporary parallels in the story?
Carson: I wasn’t directly connecting the ancient with the modern, but I do remember a feeling of comfort. Looking at the newspaper every day and thinking, “Wow, I can’t do anything about this. This is really beyond my pay grade.” And then going to back to the play and thinking, “But then there’s this.” Here’s yet another replication of the same scenario, a civilization brought down by stupid greedy men.
Bruno: In the beginning of the pandemic when everyone was freaked out, and I was very freaked out, I remember thinking, “This feels like something I’ve never experienced.” But people were rushing to talk about the Spanish flu. It was very comforting.
Carson: There’s something about not being alone in time. It happened before.