Adapting Blake’s Book of Los into a Comic

June 27, 2023

Comic artist and Blake enthusiast David Battersby shares his comic strip version of The Book of Los and reflects on the experience of adapting Blake’s poetry and art.

Believe it or not, I did not set out to adapt The Book of Los into a comic strip. It just happened that way. It all started with the cover art. I thought it would be fun to adapt the cover of the first issue of Superman and replace Superman’s image with that of Los. Superman gets his powers from the yellow sun and the name of Los spelt backwards is Sol, which is the Latin word for sun. So that was essentially the connection I was making for my original visual pun.

But that first act left me with an itch I wanted to scratch, and I thought ‘Why not adapt the whole of Blake’s book that way?’ After all, the poem is only four cantos long, how hard could it be? Besides, isn’t Blake himself described as a visionary? It makes perfect sense to combine both Blakes words and his imagery into graphic form.

So that’s exactly what I did. Blake had been given me the end of a golden string and I endeavoured to roll it into a ball. Now on your screen you can see the result. Need I explain more or expand further? I could simply take a lead from Blake himself and say that it’s all there, you just need to invest some time and read the work.

But I feel I ought to say a little more, so below are some of the conclusions I have drawn from this exercise:

  1. The Book of Los is the final book in Blake’s ‘Bible of Hell’ (comprised in his illuminated works from America through to The Book of Los, plus The Book of Thel and Tiriel).
  2. I think Blake published these books in the order in which he intended them to be read.
  3. His ‘Bible of Hell’ saga ends with the final fall of Urizen and the rise of pagan civilisations and their false gods.
  4. His subsequent works will then build on this, working towards the building of a New Jerusalem in ‘Englands green & pleasant Land’.

For me, the big benefit of adapting Blake’s work into a cartoon, is that it makes it a lot easier to capture and convey the essence of Blake’s ‘fourfold’ vision in its application, for instance:
1. the spine of Urizen becomes the sight of the Milky Way in the night sky
2. the disembodied lungs become a Portuguese man of war floating in the ocean of space that ultimately transforms into Urizen, who, Zeus-like, sends forth his storms.

Have I understood Blake’s work correctly or simply fallen into the trap of using Blake’s work as a springboard to launch an imaginative work of my own making?  I’ll let you be the judge. But it all adds to the wider debate in which all Blake enthusiasts are all engaged.

David Battersby