If you’ve been following local comics artist Kinoko’s Epic of Gilgamesh, the second issue of which was released at Stumptown Comics Fest this year, you know it’s a cheeky, breezy retelling of the classic tale, told in superflattishly simple but vibrant and recognizably Mesopotamian cartoons. If you haven’t been following, I’ll try to explain: It’s like being grabbed by some clear-eyed maniac at a party who says, “Dude, I have got the most epic story for you,” only it turns out to be a legitimate historical epic. It’s somebody who knows the source material but is a little tipsy or high or just amped on ancient mythology—someone whose Gilgamesh says shit like, “What the fuck do they want!!?” (That line, including its punctuation, is Gilgamesh’s first bit of dialogue.)
The art is emotive, clean, and manga-influenced (wild half-man Enkidu’s fat wet adorable eyes when he realizes his bro love for Gilgamesh are hilarious), but rough and brisk enough to match the storytelling. The story moves along at a fair clip, not bothering to gloss over the darker or more challenging bits of the story—Gilgamesh is initially an unpopular king because he’s been overusing his droit-de-seigneur or prima nocta privileges. And the gods, in their infinite wisdom, decide to fix this by distracting Gilgamesh with, basically, a bro named Enkidu for him to chill with.
My favorite page comes in the second issue, after Gilgamesh and Enkidu's first encounter, which is a fight, because Enkidu understandably is anti-rape and Gilgamesh is kind of a rapist. (Don't worry, this plotline drops out almost immediately.) In mid-combat, each suddenly realizes how awesome the other is. This leads to one of the best Gilgamesh lines, “Let’s go to my palace. We gotta kick it!” and what accounts to a best-friends montage: playing games, getting sexy massages, wrestling lions for probably dubious reasons, drinking beer, getting swole at the gym, and culminating with a truly triumphant chest bump.
This kind of levity, combined with the expressive, unique characterization in even minor roles like Gilgamesh’s hilariously supportive and sweet mom (the goddess Ninsun) or the grotesque giant Humbaba make one of the oldest stories on Earth totally accessible. I haven’t read the actual Epic of Gilgamesh since high school, but from what I remember, this one is pretty accurate.
Kinoko is obviously drawing from all the versions of the story and adding her own unique and delightful touches, but it feels cohesive and stilted at the same time, the way myths always do. There’s a very dry “This happened; this happened; this happened; this happened” rhythm to ancient storytelling that Kinoko plays up for both comedic effect and emotional power. The abruptness of the storytelling seems, in fact, to be tailor made for the serial and even visually segmented form of comics.
Honestly, it should always be a breeze to read old stories like this. They were meant to be told to everyone young and old. They were meant to be accessible and easy to understand. At the same time, they contain a lot of wisdom and knowledge and power and deep, lunatic absurdity. Kinoko is mining all of that, and rendering it in a comic that gains a lot on every read through. I can’t wait to see what she does with the next few issues. Fingers crossed she includes the deluge.