Hark!, a great set of comic strips with a bit of the Bard

Daniel J. Rowe

Kate Beaton is made to Brawl.

Just read Hark! A Vagrant and Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection, and you’ll understand why immediately.

Funny, witty, and with a taste for the classics. Yep. Sounds like a brawler.

The idea of her comic strips, much like ‘Zounds! contributor Mya Gosling with her Good Tickle Brain, is to take history, literature and art and make them clever, fun and funny. She takes subject matter from mainstream and lesser known histories, as well as classic literature (and a bit of Batman).

Beaton is very funny and nerdy. It’s like she was meant to be a brawler. What she does is very clever.

  1. Take a historical or literature subject
  2. Draw them in a funny but not mocking manner
  3. Make sure to show to the nerds that you know what you’re talking about in the strip, but also make it easy to understand for those who are not a masters of the arts like someone I know
  4. Make it funny

Does she pull it off?

Yes she does.

There is not too much of the Bard in either book, but there is a rad one on MacBeth that I really liked.


There is so much funny in this that I’ll leave it to you readers to post them in the comments below. The books derive from her popular website that is well worth killing an hour or two at while at work.

I actually laughed out loud at times reading Beaton’s two books.

At the bottom of each series of strips, there’s a bit of her thoughts on say, Edgar Allen Poe, Sir John A. MacDonald, the Tudors or Kokoro (you may have to look that one up, but I’m really hoping you don’t. Such a great book).

Here’s her take on Macbeth:

They say the real Macbeth was a pretty decent fellow and a good ruler, and he’d probably have a bone to pick with Shakespeare over character assassination. He’d have to get in line behind Richard III though, whom I have heard (from certain Elizabethan sources) was an ugly hunchbacked troll.

Very clever.

She would fit in well at a brawl indeed. We’ll sit her between Nick and Brooke and just let it go from there.


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Let’s Keep Killing Shakespeare!

Eric Jean

Hey Brawlers! It’s finally “next time!”

No, that doesn’t mean a new recording of Titus Andronicus – though we’re hoping to finally get some Brawlers together to  get act V out Soon™.

I mean that it’s finally time to find to talk about IDW Publishing‘s comic series Kill Shakespeare again! You know the awesome graphic novel / comic book series created and written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col.

As Daniel pointed out, we’re reading the hella slick “Backstage Edition,” a hardcover edition of all twelve issues of Kill Shakespeare. If you can swing it, I highly recommend picking it up here. May as well pick up the other volumes while you’re at it. And while you’re shopping, why not load up on some Kill Shakespeare t-shirts.

On an unrelated note, Christmas is coming up in a few weeks…

Issue Five: O Coward Conscience

Courtesy – IDW PublishingSoft! I did but dream.

“O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!”

– Richard the Third, V.iii

“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.”

– Hamlet, III.i

Hamlet’s still confused about what’s going on in issue 5. He’s still convinced that Richard III is a good guy and that Juliet, Othello and the rebels are disruptive elements of the benign king’s just rule. Also, Iago just saved Hamlet’s life so he’s still pretty convinced that Iago’s on his side. Juliet and Othello aren’t buying any of it though. And Othello’s pretty mad, bro.

It’s hard to take Hamlet and Falstaff seriously of course as they’re still walking around in dresses after their getaway in the last issue but what’s Shakespeare without cross-dressing?

Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth and Richard are negotiating. He wants the use of her Black Guard troops but she’s not budging: she’s planning to keep them stationed in her lands. She’s smokin’ hot but Radcliff’s right – she’s trouble for sure.

Hamlet tries to run off in the middle of the night with Iago but Juliet spots him and tells him he’s got to go on alone if he wants to leave. So off he goes and wanders into a walking nightmare. Hamlet sees his father’s image go all zombie undead, pulling at his skin and growing snakes out of his flesh.

That drives him a little nuts but he comes to his senses as he wanders right unto a scene of Don John and Richard’s conies beating up some townsfolk to find out where Hamlet’s hiding. Don John even cuts out Shallow’s tongue and, like a wuss, Hamlet hides in the bushes until they pass.

When Juliet and company arrive in Shrewsbury, they are told not to stick around seeing as the fear of Richard’s men might make someone rat them out. Seems like some good advice.

Finally, Hamlet eventually falls and knocks himself out in the woods trying to run away from Don John and his troops. He’s found by Lysander, Demetrius and Adriana who are on their way to Shrewsbury. Along the way, they drop some truth about their beneficent King Richard.

Characters introduced: Lysander, Demetrius, Adriana

Issue Six: Lend Me Your Ears

Courtesy – IDW Publishing

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.”

– Julius Caesar, III.ii

Turns out that crazy walking nightmare wasn’t just some bad food but was some sort of spell cast by Lady Macbeth and the weird sisters. (You know, the ones who tell Macbeth he’s be king one day but that Banquo’s kids will take over from him.) In this version, it seems like Lady M’s tapping into their juju to mess with Hamlet (and Skype with Iago, eventually).

In Shrewsbury, Iago’s messing with Othello’s mind by playing nice but “accidentally” saying stuff to set him off. And Juliet and Falstaff find Hamlet sleeping in some stables and guilt him into working the fields to pay for his free lunch.

While they work, Adriana drops some hints to Hamlet who’s totally clueless (Hey dude! Wake up! She wants to “care for thy coat!,” know what I’m saying?) But Hamlet’s too busy being emo Hamlet on account of his being a wuss earlier and not fighting Don John to save the peasant’s tongue.

Elsewhere, King Richard sleeps with Lady Macbeth.

Juliet makes a rousing speech to convince the people of Shrewsbury to join the rebellion against Richard. Rolls a natural 20 on her Diplomacy check. Everyone’s all in!

Ooops! Guess that was a little loud. Seems like Don John and co. hear that, too and now they’ve got the place surrounded and have started beating up on folks!

This time, Hamlet’s ready to throw down though and he clubs a guard in the head. A rumble breaks out and Juliet brains Don John. Even Iago gets in on the action and after they win the fight, beer and food for all.

Oh, and it turns out that Iago’s been serving Lady Macbeth this whole time because he, too, has been hypnotised by her gratuitously giant comic book boobs. (I mean just like Richard, not me. I don’t get hypnotised by cartoon boobs.)

Characters added: no one, but Don John is dead, which is a nice bonus!

Issue Seven: The Play’s The Thing

Courtesy – IDW Publishing

“[…]I’ll have grounds
More relative than this: the play ‘s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”

– Hamlet, II.ii

So Iago’s been using his own magic to Skype with Lady Macbeth who is totally willing to keep using the promise of her body to get stupid men to do stupid things. This isn’t like real life at all, guys.

It’s Twelfth Night in Shrewsbury (well, everywhere else in England too, I would imagine) and Juliet and company are convinced to stick around for a play staged by Feste and Sir Toby Belch. Or just plain Belch here.

Hamlet finally gets a clue and dances with Adriana but the dance is interrupted by the start of the play. Feste’s asking for an audience member to join them on stage.

Feste: “No, not you. No… Ah, Hamlet. Shadow King. You’ll do. Get your ass up here! Here’s a costume.”

Hamlet” What the hell am I supposed to do?”

Feste: “Oh, it’s just an old play called the Murder of King Hamlet. Errr, I mean,Gonzago. The murder of Gonzago. You get to be the murderer. Fun, right?”

Hamelt: “GAHHHHHHHH!” (Exit stage right, running and screaming)

Feste: “Was it something I said?”

Of course, the Murder of Gonzago mirrors the Mousetrap play in Hamlet. This one retells the story of the murder of Hamlet’s father by his brother Claudius. But the names are different so how did Hamlet figure it out? Must be because he’s always making everything about him.

So where does he end up when he runs off? In a crazy, trippy house of mirrors of course. Could there by some symbolism going on? Anyhow, Juliet’s worried about him so she runs off after him and discovers him going all emo again about his dad. So she confides in him about how her lover Romeo (I’ve heard that name before…) killed himself because he thought she was dead but she was just knocked out by some special totally creepy knock-out juice that made her sleep for 2 days.

Hey wait! I thought Juliet died in R&J? Yup. But she gets saved in this version just before she stabs herself and ends up leading the rebellion.

Then cue full-page image of Juliet and Hamlet on either sides of a wall, all Pyramus and Thisby style, talking through a wall and commiserating.

Characters added: Feste, Sir Toby Belch

Issue Eight: Journeys End in Lovers Meeting

Courtesy – IDW Publishing

“O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear; your true love’s coming,
That can sing both high and low:
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man’s son doth know.”

– Twelfth Night, II.iii

Hamlet and the others run into Morton. (Not to be confused with this Morton.) He was discovered spying for the rebellion and just barely managed to escape. Falstaff’s had enough of Hamlet’s waffling and declares that it’s time to find Shakespeare and get all this shit fixed.

In the mean time, Iago and Othello are training the resistance militia. Iago is giving some advice on how to beat stronger opponents like Othello. Seems that some of the advice is doing a number on Othello who gets his butt whipped and then walks off. Iago’s doublespeak is starting to twist and turn him and Othello starts his own #guiltfest.

Didn’t he shaft Iago when he passed him over for a promotion? Maybe murdering his wife Desdemona was all his fault and not Iago’s? And maybe Othello’s just a cool blooded killer anyhow?

Hamlet’s standing on his balcony musing about this whole Shadow King stuff when Juliet calls down from below and then climbs up to him. Some more clever R&J reversal. And finally they make out! The next morning, Falstaff, Iago and Hamlet set out towards… somewhere, to find Shakespeare.

Remember how Lady Macbeth was holding the Black Guard in reserve? Yeah, well Richard kinda went behind her back and invited them and their leader Philip the Bastard to join him in fighting the rebels. Pwnd!

Iago and Falstaff are poking fun at Hamlet about this whole Juliet thing when they are accosted along the road by a bunch of well-armed and armoured paladins or holy warriors. They’re not really buying this Shadow King stuff so their leader steps forward and asks Hamlet to prove it.

Who’s their leader? Romeo Montague, much less dead that previously reported.

Oh snap!

Characters added: Philip the Bastard, Orsino, Romeo


What happens next? Well, I know but you should probably pick up the graphic novel to find out for yourself. But if you’re willing to wait, we’ll eventually tell you when we cover issues 9 through 12.

Enjoy, Brawlers!

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Let’s read a comic and kill us some Shakespeare

Daniel J. Rowe

Sometimes, the title just makes you want to grab the book. I feel like there are few titles less tempting than IDW Publishing‘s comic series Kill Shakespeare.

I mean, dang, it’s called Kill Shakespeare!

Even the haters got to like that one.

I know for a fact, the true brawlers will like the series created and written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col. We’ll wait for Eric’s review of the next four issues to find out for sure, but I’d put smart money on him liking it. We’re going to break the series down by issues of four, and we’re reading out of the slick “Backstage Edition,” which is a finely packaged piece in itself.

Props to the art by Andy Belanger, and the covers by Kagan McLeod.

Issue one: A Sea of Troubles

Courtesy - IDW Publishing
Courtesy – IDW Publishing

“Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

and by opposing end them.”

– Hamlet, III,i

In issue one we’re introduced to the Shadow King, Hamlet (naturally), who is shipwrecked and washes up on the shore of Richard III’s kingdom that he rules with MacBeth (well, more like Lady MacBeth). I’m going to try to stay away from plot points, as I would rather not ruin the joy of getting introduced to the various Shakespearean characters in new and fun ways. And, no, I’m not talking about them being cast as steam punk robots or high school sweethearts. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that).

The series starts well. There’s a shipwreck, a ghost, good art (the panels with the swords coming out of the water are great), comic-style voice over, pirates, mystery and magic.

The first issue gets you hooked in, and a classic line to end. It establishes that these are Shakespearean characters, but this is a different world.

The idea of Hamlet having to kill Shakespeare to bring his father back to life is a nice touch.

Bonus about the backstage edition: there are character and line descriptors at the end of each issue giving those without an encyclopedic knowledge of characters a taste of the original text.

Characters introduced: Hamlet, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, Richard III, the Witches, Lady Macbeth

Issue two: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Courtesy - IDW Publishing
Courtesy – IDW Publishing

“By the pricking of my thumbs

Something wicked this way comes”

– Macbeth, IV,i

Enter Ratcliff, and others, as well, as new locales, new intrigue and more about this civil war between RIII and Juliet. Tell me I just didn’t sell you on that last sentence. What’s nice about the series is that characters come into play in different ways. Sometimes, they just show up, and sometimes they’re alluded to previously.

Iago shows up, and is very well written. We all know he’s evil, but we only know that because we’ve seen Othello. What if he’s part of a story that includes other cruel and conniving characters like R III and Lady Macbeth? How does he fit?

Read a find out.

Also, we have the introductions of the “prodigals of Shakespeare” adding a lovely touch of superstitious masses mixed with nerds that obviously really love the bard. Hmmm. Do I know any of those types?

The writers do a clever thing where they add Shakespearean lines or scenes into different situations. Richard III does his best Cornwall impression and takes some poor guy’s eyes out, while Iago ironically delivers the gem, “keep up your bright swords… or blood shall rust them” riffing on my favourite of Othello’s catchphrases.

Characters added: Ratcliffe, Iago, Falstaff (naturally), Tamora, Angelo, and Hastings.

Issue three: The Fool Doth Think He is Wise

Courtesy - IDW Publishing
Courtesy – IDW Publishing

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wis man knows himself to be a fool,”

– As You Like It, V,i

Alright nerds. Get ready for some boobs. It’s a sad fact about comic books that they focus particular attention to the vivacious curves of the well-endowed, and Kill Shakespeare is, unfortunately, no exception.

Yes, I like boobs like the best of them, but I mean come on. Every female character in a comic book does not have to have huge knockers no matter if they are the Merry Wives of Windsor or Lady MacBeth.

Ok. Rant done. Feminist inside of me argued for.

The Fallstaff/Hamlet scenes that take up a few pages in this issue are very fun, and one of those great ‘what ifs’ of Shakespeare. What if Fallstaff’s bombast was paired with Hamlet’s melancholy. A great what if answered in issue three. Also, what if Richard III and Macbeth were sitting at a table together? Answered.

Puck (Robin Goodfellow) shows up and his design is great. This is what makes comics fun: no reliance on human actors.

I should give a belated shoutout to colourist Ian Herring. His work stands out in the comic series.

And, dang, if Connor McCreery and Anthony Del Col go right into Poe-land, where Christopher Moore did in The Serpent of Venice. It’s a killer ending, and I won’t ruin it. I will, however, point out that Moore’s book came first. I’m not saying the idea was stolen, or that it doesn’t work every time, but still…


Characters added: Macbeth, Puck, Titus (referenced), Olivia


Issue Four: So Wise, So Young, Never Do Live Long

Courtesy - IDW Publishing
Courtesy – IDW Publishing

“So wise so young, they say, do never live long,”

– Richard III,i

Great first page. Well drawn, well coloured and well executed.

Nothing makes a comic hum like a great first page.

The continuation of cross-dressing from issue three is a nice add to the story, as you can’t have Shakespeare without a little Gender Bending. Hey ho. Have you bought your copy of ‘Zounds! yet? I don’t know why I just thought of that. Hmmmmm. Click here.

Again, the writers are careful to hold characters back, so that we get humdingers like in issue four when probably the best ‘what if’ turns up when Juliet is paired with Othello. Yes! Can’t say I don’t dig that. Oh, and see how Juliet is designed? More of that.

Also, the weaselly Parolles is a great addition, as is Nerissa.

This is the first look at the other side of the civil war (although I feel like there may be more than just two sides). Much of the issue is build up with a very well-done payoff in the end. The close ups of Othello and Don John are nice, and when Othello lays eyes on Iago, even better. It’s an amazingly designed page with all the passion and emotion one would expect from the two if they were to see each other after the play Othello is finished.

There’s a reason why Othello is one of the Bard Brawl’s favourites. The characters from that play always add a huge chunk of amazing.

Characters added: Juliet, Othello, Parolles, Nerissa, Robert Shallow, Don John

Come back next time when Eric continues with issues five through eight of Kill Shakespeare.

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Sorry Bill I just Don’t Get It!

Troy Clements

So I’m not sure about you guys but Shakespeare is F ing hard to understand right?! I mean I just can’t seem to get my head around some of it. Especially if you are a fella coming from the maritime provinces where ya got lots of different kinds of fish spears but no Shakespeares unless you’re just trying to get the fish off your spear. I suppose you could call that shake spear?

I mean com’on, did people really talk like this??

A man may, if he were of a fearful heart,
stagger in this attempt; for here we have no temple
but the wood, no assembly but horn-beasts. But what
though? Courage! As horns are odious, they are
necessary. It is said, ‘many a man knows no end of
his goods:’ right; many a man has good horns, and
knows no end of them. Well, that is the dowry of
his wife; ‘tis none of his own getting. Horns?
Even so. Poor men alone? No, no; the noblest deer
hath them as huge as the rascal. Is the single man
therefore blessed? No: as a walled town is more
worthier than a village, so is the forehead of a
married man more honourable than the bare brow of a
bachelor; and by how much defence is better than no
skill, by so much is a horn more precious than to want.

– As You Like It, Act3, Scene 3

Haha ahh insert WTF emoticon here…I mean, Christ, feels like I’m talking to Steven Hawking about the origin of the universe. Isn’t this stuff supposed to be about like love, lust and other normal people shit?

I mean I get it. Everybody likes to show off and use “smart words” but cut us some slack Bill: either ease back on the drugs or come down off your pedestal and drop the “smart words.”

We get it, you talk good!

So if you feel the same way as I do, but still wanna get to the most outta Shakespeare… fuck it, just cheat!

I found a simple audio book app that has many Shakespeare ditties.

There are a few that break down entire plays in 15min, written in a way even children can understand. Well, to be honest, its still a little complicated at times as it was written for children who lived in the early 1900’s…I guess kids were smarter then? Makes me wonder what happened to the baby boomers?

What did I learn from ole Nesbit’s approach that I didn’t learn from Eric Jean you ask?  An example would be from Two Gentleman of Verona, a play of platonic love and fidelity where the character Speed – who I really enjoy – says,

O jest unseen, inscrutable, invisible,
As a nose on a man’s face, or a weathercock on a steeple!
My master sues to her, and she hath
taught her suitor,
He being her pupil, to become her tutor.
O excellent device! was there ever heard a better,
That my master, being scribe, to himself should write
the letter?

Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act 2, Scene 1

This scene is about Silvia asking Valentine to write a sort of love letter to a friend of hers cause she doesn’t have time to do it herself.  But in truth she wants Valentine to actually write the letter to her…(big communication issues if you ask me).  Valentine, who is smitten with love and not thinking clearly, doesn’t pick up on her obvious nuances and writes some half-ass letter that falls short and Silvia kinda gets pissed off.  When Silvia leaves the room Speed pipes up, poking fun at Valentine, pointing out that she clearly wanted him to write the letter to her.

Nesbit doesn’t really explain the entire scene but does bring Speed’s lines down to earth a bit.  She references the weathercock on a steeple jab, meaning that its very obvious as to what Silvia is up too.  This is what made things clearer for me, allowing for the entire scene to make sense.


Anyway…if you are looking for the easy way out check out the app Audiobooks and download Edith Nesbit’s Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare  (or buy the real, live printed book form. Remember those?) and if you still don’t understand…well, blame your parents.

The fun of Serpents and Shylocks and Moors and Poe

Daniel J. Rowe

Christopher Moore’s menage of Othello, Merchant of Venice and the Cask of Amontillado  is so much dang fun that it would smite my place as a bard brawler not to recommend picking the book up and diving in. Just beware of sea monsters.

Christopher Moore gets from the Bard to Poe to a sea serpent in style in the Serpent of Venice
Christopher Moore gets from the Bard to Poe to a sea serpent in style in the Serpent of Venice

The story begins with three men waiting in Venice for a fool to arrive. The plot is laid for them to off the fool, so they can proceed to reap the bounteous fortunes that await them. They even took care of the monkey. One poisoning later, and the Fool is chained to a wall and being sealed in brick-by-brick by the father of the his sister-in-law. Ba-da-bing and we just got from William Shakespeare to Edgar Allen Poe and we’re only in the second chapter.

And the sea snake hasn’t even showed up!

Christopher Moore’s The Serpent of Venice is a great read that thumps from cover-to-cover with the funny, clever, sometimes really gross rhythm welcome on any Bard Brawler’s shelf.

The book follows the Fool (King Lear’s fool), as he wanders through a Venice haunted by a sea creature that does dirty things to the Fool and deadly things to those you want deadly things done to. The serpent is one of the few characters Shakespeare did not have in either of the plays the plot follows, but I’m sure the bard would have welcomed her presence. At least I hope he would.

Edgar Allen Poe’s short story kicks the story off, and the rest of the novel follows the plots of Othello and Merchant of Venice more or less with a cameo from Marco Polo.

Okay, now you’re showing off Moore.

The book is the ultimate response to the comment, “I want to read Shakespeare, but I don’t understand what’s going on.” The book is simple to follow, and incredibly fun. Iago, Othello, Antonio, Jessica, Shylock and Lorenzo are all there, and Moore is damn clever in twisting the plots together so it reads like one clear novel about a poor Fool trying to avenge the murder of his wife Cordelia? Yep, Lear’s youngest married the Fool in the end. Why not? The speeches are there, as is a general commentary on the plot lines complete with modern swears, sexiness and a bit with a monkey.

Moore also does what all who watch Shakespeare plays secretly want to do: scream at the characters and question their motivations. Why can’t enough be enough Macbeth? Why do you have to think so much Hamlet? Or as the Fool says to Othello in Moore’s book:

Fine. So you would accuse your lady of being untrue – your lady, who did throw all of Venice away for you, stood up to the most powerful men in the republic, for you, Moor,; she you would accuse, without any evidence but the comment of another, yet Iago, who you know to be a villain, a cutthroat, and a traitor – for him you need proof beyond my word? Respect my judgement in this, Othello, if in nothing else, or thou art a fool.

Yeah Othello. Think before you act.

The book also cleverly works in the soliloquies and famous lines from each play ad-libbing here and there, and adding reaction from other characters so that even those who don’t know a lick of Shakespeare will give that, ‘huh. I’ve heard that somewhere,’ or better yet, an ‘oh. I get it now.’

The Serpent of Venice was a joy to read. It adds the flare and seduction of the Bard with the page-turning joy of a clever modern fantasy tale. And how can you not be happy to read what happens to Lorenzo. I’m always sad when I hear sweet music indeed, Jessica. Boom.

The joy of reading Shakespeare is not always an easy sell, and so it’s a pleasure when someone like Moore comes along and makes it come off so easily.

I feel like Moore would be a great bard brawler, and thus could do nothing but commend him for his efforts with the Serpent of Venice. Those students struggling through either Merchant of Venice or Othello would do well to pick up a copy of Moore’s book, and you’ll be well on your way. Of course, you could always just listen to the Bard Brawl podcast, and that would do just as well. Either way.


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