Alibi V.12 No.45 • Nov 6-12, 2003 

Art Article

Graphic Classics: Ambrose Bierce

Eureka Productions
graphicclassics.com
$9.95

S.T. Joshi points out in his introduction that Ambrose Bierce "was censured, even in his own lifetime, as a cynic or misanthrope."

Bierce's life is encapsulated in a two-page cartoon written by Mort Castle with the illustrations of Dan E. Burr. Taking a sort of Mad Magazine approach to the events, the strip depicts what undoubtedly contributed to much of Bierce's bitterness: his stint as a Union soldier for nearly the entire duration of the Civil War, in which he survived no less than a gunshot wound to the head.

The strip concludes by noting that the satirist eventually set off on horseback for Mexico never to be heard from again, leading to many sensationalistic theories about his ultimate fate, including alien abduction.

John Coulthart provides an amazing comic book adaptation of what may be Bierce's most famous subtly supernatural drama, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." Coulthart's photo-like illustrations seem to have been rendered on a computer. The artist does incredible things with lighting, shadow, angle and perspective to great dramatic, and cinematic, effect.

An incomplete homage to another infamous Bierce creation is "The Devil's Dictionary":

Dance: To leap about to the sound of tittering music, preferably with your arms about your neighbor's wife or daughter.

Distance: The only thing that the rich are willing for the poor to call theirs, and keep.

There are many other definitions, peppered with original cartoons in the same spirit by Leslie Murray. They are, if cynical, as habit-forming as peanuts.

The complex familial lunacy of Bierce's "An Imperfect Conflagration" is nicely adapted into comic book form, and illustrated, by Rick Geary. "Conflagration" begins with the catchy line, "Early one June morning in 1872, I murdered my father—an act which made a deep impression on me at the time."

"The Stranger" is a ghost tale told by a mysterious wanderer who approaches a high plains campfire in the dead of night in the old west, nicely dramatized with the pen and ink drawings of Mark A. Nelson. There's also an ironic yarn about body thieves in a graveyard, "One Summer Night," very stylishly depicted, underground comic-style, by Francesca Ghermandi, while a one-page bit, "The Conservative Employer," takes a crack at power moguls.

I don't care for cynics, generally, but getting back to S.T. Joshi's informative introduction, we learn that H.L. Mencken posthumously categorized Bierce as "one of the most idealistic men that his generation produced in America." Add this to what is born out in his work, and it becomes clear that if he was disgusted with homo sapiens, it was disgust born of the realization of what humans could and should be, as opposed to the terrible beasts they so often allow themselves to become.