Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Arabian Nights Comics, Graphic Novels &c.


I suppose it was inevitable that the 1001 Nights would eventually inspire comics writers and artists as well as filmmakers (The Thief of Baghdad, all the various versions of Sindbad, Aladdin etc.), playwrights ("Kismet", "Hassan") and popular novelists (John Barth, A. S. Byatt - even Nobel prize-winner Naguib Mahfouz).

Carl Barks, the creator of Uncle Scrooge, wrote two substantial adventure stories based on the Nights: "The Cave of Ali Baba", a fascinating tale within a tale framed by some magicians performing the Indian rope trick, and "Rug Riders in the Sky", somewhat more perfunctory, a fantasia based on the Flying Carpet motif familar from Douglas Fairbanks. Barks is clearly fascinated by the Roc, that elephant-sized bird in the old stories, but beyond that archaeology sets his pulse racing more than folklore and narratology.

I've listed below the Nights-related comics & games which I personally have come across. No doubt there are many more:

Alfonso Azpiri (art & story). “Desert Shadows.” Wet Dreams. New York: Heavy Metal, 2000. 3-12.

The association of the Nights with pornography clearly dies hard, as the cover illustration to this anthology of vaguely mythological short stories reveals.


Carl Barks (art & story). The Carl Barks Library. 30 vols. USA: Another Rainbow, 1991-1996.

The second of Barks' classic Uncle Scrooge Arabian Nights adventures.


Neil Gaiman (story) & P. Craig Russell (art). “Ramadan.” The Sandman Library VI: Fables & Reflections. 10 vols. New York: DC Comics, 1993. 226-58.

The highest-selling issue in the whole run of Gaiman's Sandman series, apparently. Written in 1992, it ends with images from President Bush Senior's First Gulf War.


Jeon JinSeok (story) & Han Seughee (art). One Thousand and One Nights. Vol 1. 2004. Trans HyeYoung Im & J. Torres. Seoul: Ice-Kunion, 2005.

-. One Thousand and One Nights. Vol 2. 2005. Trans HyeYoung Im & J. Torres. Seoul: Ice-Kunion, 2006.

-. One Thousand and One Nights. Vol 3. 2005. Trans HyeYoung Im & J. Torres. Seoul: Ice-Kunion, 2006.

-. One Thousand and One Nights. Vol 4. 2005. Trans HyeYoung Im & J. Torres. New York: Yen Press, 2008.

-. One Thousand and One Nights. Vol 5. 2006. Trans HyeYoung Im & J. Torres. New York: Yen Press, 2008.

-. One Thousand and One Nights. Vol 6. 2006. Trans HyeYoung Im & J. Torres. New York: Yen Press, 2008.

A truly bizarre "manhwa" rewriting of the Nights for female Korean teenagers. A lot of stress on gay sex & incest (retellings of the story of Cleopatra - in love with her brother rather than either Caesar or Antony, apparently - & Socrates and Alicibiades, among others) makes it rather more "revisionist" than perhaps its original publishers intended. As a result, the English translations are lagging a couple of years behind the Korean version.


Maltaite, Eric. Les 1001 nuits de Scheherazade. Paris: Albin Michel, 2001.

A good, straightforward -- though definitely sexually explicit - retelling of the first few stories from the collection. Highly recommended.


Masters, Phil. Arabian Nights: Magic and Mystery in the Land of the Djinn. Ed. Steve Jackson and Susan Pinsonneault. Austin, Tx: Steve Jackson Games, 1993.

Probably for fans of Dungeons & Dragons-style games only. Extremely circumstantial and detailed, though.


Smullyan, Raymond. The Chess Mysteries of the Arabian Knights. 1981. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992.

A somewhat eccentric adaptation of Arabian Nights scenarios to the exigencies of the chessboard.

8 comments:

maps said...

There are some illustrated Arabian Nights on display at the moment in the Auckland Public Library Special Collections gallery. Some Mervyn Peake too.

Jack Ross said...

Yes, I've been in to check them out once already. The Edmond Dulac Nights images are particularly good, I think. Once you start down that road, though, there's really no limit to the number of illustrated editions which have come out over the years: coloured plates by Marc Chagall, Kay Nielsen & Maxfield Parrish; beautiful line drawings by Valenti Angelo, Rene Bull & William Harvey ... the list goes on and on.

I have to restrain myself from buying each new one I see.

Richard Taylor said...

Jack - can you just tell us what you don't know - or HAVEN'T read?

(Yes, I do know you are one of "God's spies"...)

There is so much to read - I'm trying to re-read EMO (and annotate it) - and you keep tempting me with Peake and Powys - I am NOT going down the 1001 Nights Road - hearing the stories read to me by my mother of a man being flown around on a giant eagle (?) as 4 or 5 year old or whatever I was was enough - the magic is there still (Alladin).... I even started page one of a Powys... it looks good - it also like the gusto with which Powys introduces his own book!

But Jack - please slow down!

BTW that chess position is impossible in "proper" chess game ... true, there have been many versions of the game...
but on that book cover position (or deisgn) there is no way to "Shah mat"!

Jack Ross said...

So what you're saying to me is "STOP!" is it, Richard? I suppose in my own defence I could say that EMO is very predicated on the Arabian Nights in many aspects, so you may not be able to ignore them altogether. It certainly is a trackless sea in which it's easy to get lost, though - as are the likes of Peake and Powys, too - so you're probably wise to pause on the edge of the precipice.

How very interesting that the chess move is impossible! I gather from Google that this guy Smullyan is rather a chess pundit. It must be his publishers who saddled him with such a misleading cover. It would be fascinating to get your opinion on that book as a whole, actually.

Richard Taylor said...

The position is probably one of those puzzles they have where one has to reconstruct how it arrived or came about.

It looks as if the White piece on what we chess fanatics call the a4 square is either a Bishop, Pawn or a King. If it is a B - then it could be a game from a modern "Blitz" game (played at say 5 minutes each or sometimes faster times down to 1 minute or even less!) In such games the rule is you can take the king (sometimes) - it is controversial as that is in itself illegal (in a "normal " game!) And also it is illegal to make an illegal move! But a game might be lost in the tenths of a second it might take to decide if the move was illegal...everyone is confused on that rule...) ...Or if is one of those strange (composed) positions.

If the white piece is a Pawn the Rook can be taken or if it is Black to play...well there are many moves, if it is a King and White to move the Rook can be taken and it is a draw or if Black to play an easy win for Black if a B then it is Black to move and the Black king is in check and must move next and then the R can be taken - if it is in modern chess - there are many variants - chess came from India or somewhere and evolved so to speak...the Arabs spread the game.

I suspect it was deliberately "ambiguous" - signifying he puzzling, "near infinite", nature of Chess and life (and of course in the labyrinthine nature of the 1001 nights) itself - the mystery ...

I got interested in Chess when I read Alice Through the Looking Glass - I asked my father what chess was - he didn't know so we both started to learn it...

I have read through EMO and am looking at it again with more annotations this time...

Jack Ross said...

Looking through the book, I see that this is problem 1: "Where is Haroun al Rashid?" [aka the white king]

"Haroun al Rashid - Ruler of the Faithful - had gathered from sorcerers all over the world many secrets of magic. One of his favourite tricks he had learned form a Chinese sorcerer ... It was the art of invisibility. So here is Haroun standing in broad daylight, on one of the sixty-four squares of the enchanted chess kingdom. But nobody can see him, for the simple reason that he is invisible.

On what square does he stand?" [p.3]

The answer is, apparently, "c3", but I don't really understand the reasoning that gets one there.

Richard Taylor said...

Yes these things are infuriating even to chess players although some people love this kind of thing.

The board notation is bottom LHS = a1 and so c3 as you may know is 3 squares in and 3 squares up.

It is the only place the K could be as I now see.

This is because the Bishop on a4 could not be checking the black King on d1 unless something moved (one move earlier) to "discover" the B - otherwise the B couldn't be where it is. So what must have happened is:

Start 1. ... Rb5 check (really not a good move) as then 2 ...BxR [Bxb5] could have happened. But the moves were. [1 ..could also have Rx something giving check.]

1 ... Rb5+ 2 Kc3+

It, while clever, would be irrelevant to a "real game" of chess [except maybe for training a bit of lateral thinking] but is one of those - "how did this situation arise?" things - and is thus quite clever...some are so difficult I don't even try to solve them...I don't go for those kinds of problems very much...

But some are fun. Looks like a good book for children ... well - we are all children ... we all love to play!

Ulrich Fügener said...

Another item for your list: the comic book "New Tales of the Arabian Nights", also known as "The Last Voyage of Sindbad" by Richard Corben and Jan Strnad.

Some information about it: http://johnrfultz.com/2012/07/11/the-cosmic-eye-summer-readings-iii/

(Though I'm not sure if it really has never been reprinted...)