Introducing... Franz Kafka

An intelligent and entertaining collaboration
Pages taken from 'Introducing Franz Kafka' by David Zane Mairowitz and Robert Crumb
'I think the first thing to say is that the book is a work of art in its own right. The design of the volume is immediately attractive, and when you open it up, the eye is drawn into a fascinating and complex set of images, showing Crumb's interpretation of life in early 20th century Prague.'

Over at A Common Reader, Tom C has posted an enthusiastic review of Introducing Franz Kafka, published by Icon Books some time back. I've been a fan of the Introducing... series for a number of years, and I've flicked through their biographies of just about everyone: from Roland Barthes to Sigmund Freud to Friedrich Nietzsche. The biographies offer a brief, yet insightful, summary to the major events in their subject's life, while providing a considered and approachable discussion of their work. Introducing... have also released books covering broader topics, such as 'Critical Theory' and 'Philosophy', which gift-wrap the key identifiable themes with fascinating anecdotes and pub-quiz trivia. But what makes Icon Books' signature series stand out on the shelf is their format: all editions have been released in the form of a comic-strip, or graphic novel.

In some ways, Introducing Franz Kafka is the apotheosis of the concept. David Zane Mairowitz and Robert Crumb offer a superb collaborative effort which outlines major events in Kafka's life to illustrate the key thematic motifs of his work. It is easy to dismiss this kind of biographical literary analysis as a kind of bogus detective work that leads to nowhere; and I'm sure that many of us appreciate that a writer's life need not necessarily bear relation to their work. But, having said that, Kafka's work seems to lend itself to this interpretative strategy, and despite its flaws Introducing makes a convincing and entertaining case.

I'm particularly fond of the way Mairowitz and Crumb dramatically summarize Kafka's major works, from The Trial to Metamorphosis, and a generous number of his short stories. They somehow manage to capture a sense of disorientation and alienation that persists in the texts, while also drawing attention to their own obscure logic and dark humour: Crumb's sketches capture Kafka's sensibility brilliantly, but does so with unmistakable originality and flair. Highly recommended.

You can find the official Icon Books website by clicking here, and read Tom's initial posting at A Common Reader.