The Graphic Canon, Volume 3, selected as one of the best books of the summer by PW, is 500 pages of classic 20th-century literature reimagined graphically by 70+ artists. It's the most beautiful book of the year. Still need proof? Check out 15 of the book's images below, explained by editor Russ Kick.

My hands were quivering as I recently opened the package containing my advance copy of The Graphic Canon, Volume 3. The project was complete. Over the course of three huge volumes, more than 120 illustrators and comics artists had given their visual take on 181 classic works of literature, from ancient days to the end of the twentieth century.

The Graphic Canon was conceived as an art project and as a celebration of literature. It turned into a lot more, including a visual primer on world literature, an encyclopedia of ways to combine words and images, a showcase for the power of illustration and sequential art, and a source of controversy (the word "canon" has gotten under some people's skin, and the sex and nudity in a few of the pieces have shocked people who apparently didn't realize that the great works deal with that aspect of the human condition too). A few of the pieces ("The Metamorphosis" by Kafka, Gravity's Rainbow by Pynchon) represent the best of what has already been published along these lines. The vast majority of the book, however, is newly commissioned material. Every piece in all three volumes is preceded by a little introduction in which I present some background on the literary work and its author, introduce the artist doing the adapting, and relate entertaining tidbits from literary history.

All three volumes were created simultaneously, as a single project. They were published as a 1,600-page trilogy only because of practical concerns. Luckily, they divided nicely by time period. Volume 1 starts with ancient literature - Babylonia, Greece, Rome, the Israelites - and moves through the Middle Ages, Shakespeare's day, and to the Enlightenment in the late 1700s. Volume 2 covers the 1800s, from the turn of the century to the decadent end. Volume 3 - just now being released - moves us from the opening of the twentieth century to 1996.

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Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

It starts with ten new full-page images for Heart of Darkness, done by Matt Kish, a librarian and self-taught artist who caused a sensation when he created an image for every page of Moby-Dick a few years ago. Here, he turns his attention to Joseph Conrad's tale of atrocities in the Belgian Congo, which much later formed the basis of the classic film Apocalypse Now. In this image, we see highly-stylized representations of the five men - including Marlow and the narrator - in a boat on the Thames.

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The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The next piece in the book is Rebecca Migdal's magnificent adaptation of The Awakening, the novel that destroyed Kate Chopin's career and life. Chopin dared to write without judgment about an unhappy married woman engaging in an affair. Rebecca opens with a stunning two-page spread, then moves to ten pages of sequential comics, all done in the luminous, painstaking technique of white acrylic on blackboard.

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Another work from early in the book is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. UK artist Graham Rawle spent ages building small sets that radically reimagine the greatest American children's novel, then he photographed them. The Wicked Witch of the West, with her telescoping eye, is supremely creepy, and the Cowardly Lion is scruffy. We get to see the violent Hammerheads, who didn't make it into the famous film with Judy Garland. The photodiorama here presents the Emerald City as you've never seen it before. This is an actual physical set that Graham built, and it resides on a tabletop in his home.

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"Araby" by James Joyce

Annie Mok turned in an effortlessly flowing 16-page comic adaptation of "Araby," considered one of the best stories from James Joyce's Dubliners. This marks the first time that a story from that landmark work has been graphically adapted.

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"Hands" by Sherwood Anderson

Ted Rall, best known for his political cartoons, employs his signature look to relate "Hands," the first story from Sherwood Anderson's masterful Winesburg, Ohio, an unsettling look at life in a small Midwestern town.

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"A Matter of Colour" by Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway's second published short story, "A Matter of Colour," has been buried in obscurity, included in just one of his collections, and that's published only in the UK. At my suggestion, Dan Duncan enthusiastically made this boxing tale into a beautiful comic that looks like it could come from Marvel, which indeed is one of the concerns that has published Dan's work.

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"The Heart of the Park" by Flannery O'Connor

Over on the experimental, avant-garde end of the spectrum, Jeremy Eaton has wordlessly adapted a short story by Flannery O'Connor, the master of Southern Gothic. Jeremy's colorful style employs only typographical symbols - letters, numbers, punctuation marks, and dingbats - to relate the disturbing events of "The Heart of the Park."

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The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Also casting aside words, Liesbeth De Stercke created a spare, aching take on the first part of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I love the fact that an artist in Belgium has perfectly captured the quintessential 20th-century novel about America. You can almost taste the dust.

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"The Second Coming" by W.B. Yeats

Besides sequential comics and full-page illustrations, some artists chose to create dramatic two-page spreads for their works. Anthony Ventura made a visceral, threatening spread for "The Second Coming," the endlessly bleak and much-anthologized poem from W.B. Yeats.

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1984 by George Orwell

Meanwhile, Lesley Barnes took on another dark, hopeless work - Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell - and using her gorgeously intricate, geometric approach, turned it into something so beautiful you almost don't mind the endless eyes upon you.

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Crash by J.G. Ballard

As in every volume, I made an attempt to stretch the bounds of what is considered canonical. In Volume 3, I found artists who were willing to adapt works that I believe qualify as great literature even if they haven't been universally accepted as such (yet): the Native American spiritual classic Black Elk Speaks, the hard-boiled detective novel The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, the poem that later became the jazz classic "Strange Fruit," Billie Holliday's haunting song about lynching, and the avant garde quasi-science fiction novel Crash by J.G. Ballard (shown here, adapted by Onsmith).

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The diaries of Anaïs Nin

Being an anthologist is an exercise in letting go of control - things fall through or never materialize; unexpected things happen. I tried to get someone to do Proust, but no one was willing to wade into the 1.5 million words of In Search of Lost Time. (Perhaps in a future volume....) But then I find that Benjamin Birdie has already been working on a series of illustrations for Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, and that Mardou has created a delightful comic about Anaïs Nin, based on her famous diaries (shown here).

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Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

Speaking of unexpected, it was a happy day when Robert Crumb graciously allowed Seven Stories and me to reprint two of his rarely seen stories - excerpts from Boswell's London Journal (in Volume 1) and a key chapter from Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialist classic Nausea (shown here). Crumb hand-lettered the entire nine pages of heavy dialog and narration in the original French, and my publisher and I decided to keep it that way, rather than providing a translation. It's the only piece in all three volumes not in English, and we're fond of the twist that it provides. You really don't know what you're going to find when you open to any page of The Graphic Canon.

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Animal Farm by George Orwell

Another case in point: Even though most of the pieces are sequential comics or illustrations (often in a series), other types of art are on display. James Uhler uses radical typography and graphic design to present two of Rilke's insightful Letters to a Young Poet. Jenny Tondera randomly distorts film stills to present a unique version of "The Negro Dreams of Rivers," the signature poem of Langston Hughes. Employing photodioramas, Laura Plansker built small sets for three key scenes from Animal Farm by George Orwell (shown here).

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"The Penitent" by Edna St. Vincent Millay

If only there were space enough and time to individually mention every piece in these 576 pages. I feel like I must mention Emelie Ostergren's profoundly disturbing riff on Naked Lunch by William Burroughs; Sally Madden's gorgeously colored scenes from Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov; PMurphy's understated look at One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; J. Ben Moss' snapshot of Siddhartha's conversation with the Buddha (from Hermann Hesse's novel); Robert Berry's thoroughly enjoyable adaptation of Leopold Bloom's morning activities from Ulysses by James Joyce; Joy Kolitsky's stunning renditions (one in black and white, one in color) of two poems from the astonishing Edna St. Vincent Millay (shown here); Caroline Picard's visually groundbreaking adaptation of a key scene from The Voyage Out, Virginia Woolf's first novel; John Pierard's two spreads from The Doors of Perception, in which Aldous Huxley famously took a dose of the psychedelic substance mescaline and shared the results with the world; Kate Glasheen's ten full-page paintings for William Faulkner's rarely read second story, "The Hill"... And still it goes on. H.G. Wells and T.S. Eliot, The Age of Innocence and Lord of the Flies, The Master and Margarita and One Hundred Years of Solitude. Cormac McCarthy and Kathy Acker.

I still don't quite understand how all of this came together. No wonder my hands were shaking.