Salome in the Comics

I recently finished an academic article on a very interesting 1986 comic book version of Oscar Wilde’s Symbolist play Salomé (1891), entitled “Salomé in the Comics: P. Craig Russell’s Intertextual Adaptation from Strauss and Wilde.” In the spirit of open-access scholarship, it will be published in the upcoming special issue on Salomé in the online journal The Oscholars, published by The Rivendale Press (UK).

The article is archived here as a pdf file, freely available to download (all copyright is the author’s and hence reserved).  Here is an excerpt:

The Dance of the Seven Veils is another example of Russell’s interpretive grappling with both Wilde’s play and Strauss’s opera.  At first, the dance—a non-verbal, drawn-out, yet crucial moment in the action—presented a true problem for his visual translation.  “Now, how do you show this in comics? It had to be a purely visual moment.  It couldn’t just be pictures and throwing off veils” (Comics Journal, 56). Working with Strauss’s detailed notes for the opera’s dance scenario, Russell decided to “use[] the dropping of each veil as a chance to comment on or advance the action.” For example, as Salomé throws off her veils, Russell inserts a sequence (interspersed with her dance) in which the soldiers carry and then throw the body of the dead Narraboth over a steep cliff (Fig. 6). “Instead of seeing the body bang against the rocks we see [Salomé’s] veil lightly fall on the floor.  That’s neither in the play nor the opera.  That’s what I played with, moving back and forth between the characters and the actions.  And keeping it silent.  I planned to have it work as a visual element in the story and make it almost a visual dance, not a literal dance of drawing her dancing.”  Russell also interspersed the sequence with pictures in which Salomé is shown dancing in Narraboth’s blood, symbolically linking Salomé’s sensuality with the death of her first victim, and using it as a foreshadowing of her next victim (Jokanaan).

Fig. 6

The last veils symbolically fall on the executioner’s axe (Fig.6) and in the following panel (Fig. 7), there is another close-up of Salomé from below through the grid, this time as a naked silhouette dropping the last veil) right in front of Jokanaan’s cistern.  As she throws up her last but one veil to the moon, it forms a question mark, and as she takes off the very last veil, Salomé is fully framed by the cistern grid (in front) and the large, full moon (from behind), affirming Wilde’s and Strauss’s connection between moon, femininity, and fatality one last time.

Fig. 7

Here Salomé is at her most powerful visually, a commanding presence who, we know, is already plotting her ultimate triumph and revenge.  Even though Russell agreed with Wilde’s and Strauss’s initial presentation of the princess as an innocent, pure creature, he also gave his own interpretation of her relationship with Jokanaan a unique, surprisingly conservative twist.  Russell, who calls himself a libertarian, thought of Salomé in terms of Ayn Rand:

 I was looking at her from the perspective of an Ayn Randian viewpoint of sexuality: one responds sexually to what one holds as their highest ideal.  I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but it’s an interesting take.  You can understand a person’s moral basis by what they find sexually exciting.  […] The tragedy of it, of course, is that her highest ideal rejects her. […] John the Baptist has seen a dichotomy between the mind and the body—that the mind is pure and the body is vile—which Salome doesn’t at all.  Her body only responds to what her mind sees as pure.  […] she then has his head severed from his body.  She projects onto him the dichotomy he’s projecting onto both her and the world.  Of course, Ayn Rand is turning over in her grave at the idea that Salome could be seen as an Ayn Randian heroine or a projection of her rather strange view of sexuality. (Comics Journal, 56-57)

[To read the full article, please click here.)

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