Illustrating Poetry with Julian Peters- Part 1

It’s not everyday that you come across someone who illustrates poetry. I think I must have found Julian on one of my obsessive fb rounds- I am trying to get out of the habit. But luck was shining on me and my scrolling up and down led me to illustrations of T.S.Eliot’s Prufrock poem.

I was floored.

It is a glorious poem to read but it never struck me that one would even attempt to draw it.


Julian Peters is a comic book artist and illustrator living in Montreal. His comic book adaptations of poems by François Villon and Arthur Rimbaud were included in The Graphic Canon (Seven Stories Press, 2012) and his ongoing adaptation of T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” was recently profiled in Slate magazine. Julian is also currently in the process of completing a master’s degree in Art History, with a thesis focusing on two early graphic novels: Dino Buzzati’s Poema a fumetti (“Poem Strip”) and The Projector by Martin Vaughn-James. You can follow his work on his blog:

Why do you choose to illustrate poetry and not fiction? What drove you to this art?

Well, I’m not the first person to have observed a certain affinity between poetry and comics (the Canadian graphic novelist Seth has called comics “a combination of poetry and graphic design”), and indeed to me the pairing comes pretty naturally.

Poetry is probably the art that has the capacity to move me the most, thus inspiring me to attempt to give expression to that response in the art form that I’m most comfortable with– comics. Also there’s the fact that Poetry Comics haven’t been done much before, and as an artist you always have to find a way to stand out somehow.  

How do you decide which poem works? What kind of poems/poets “deserve” to be illustrated?

Generally speaking, I’d say the poems that work best as comics are the ones that are both narrative (in the sense that they at least hint at a plot sequence of some kind) and also descriptive, but at the same time, not too narrative, and still somewhat abstract. If a poem is too narrative and/or too plainly descriptive, the accompanying drawings are likely to seem a bit redundant.

On the other hand, if the writing is too abstract and, especially, non-imagistic, then any comic derived from it would necessarily bear only a tenuous relationship to the original poem, and probably distract from it.

How do you decide the length of the comic strip and which parts of the poem you must leave out? Do you always stick to the author’s lines or the sequencing of the original poem?

 I never omit or alter any of the original words or tamper with the word order. It seems to me that would be a betrayal of the poem. Of course, partly with that consideration in mind, I have always chosen to adapt rather short works.

Describe a day of illustrating poetry.

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to work on my comics, so now a day of illustrating really sounds like heaven! And it is in many ways, but like all things it starts to lose its charm when you do it for too many hours or days in a row. I like to listen to music or The Young Turks online news channel while I’m drawing, and I take an unnecessary amount of coffee and bathroom breaks to procrastinate somewhat. The creative process also involves taking a lot of reference photos of myself in various poses, often wearing makeshift costumes and holding various cardboard props. 


W. B. Yeats and Manga. In your blog you say: The style is a tribute to the beautiful Shojo manga (girls’ comics) created by the “Clamp” collective in the early 90s. Tell us about that.

About a decade ago I came across a few volumes of the wonderful Tokyo Babylon series and I fell completely under its spell. Such elegance in the line drawings, and such emotional intensity, especially in the eyes!

As for Yeats’s “When You Are Old,” it has long been one of my favourite poems. I especially like the last line, “And hid his face amid a crowd of stars” (although I’m not sure I fully understand it). I began to realize at some point that the imagery that most readily came into my head while reading that line was of the kind found in Japanese Shojo manga.

Maybe because of the way the impossibly-romantic male love interests in these girls’ comics are so often depicted striking a weightless pose against a star-filled sky, or perching leisurely upon a star or a moon.  I am thinking for example of the character of Tuxedo Mask in the Sailor Moon comics.

Yeats was a hopelessly romantic figure if there ever was one, seeing as he spent almost his entire adult life pining away for a woman who did not return his affections, the beautiful Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne. And as a young man he kind of had the face, the costume and especially the hair of a male lead in a shojo manga.

So the combination, however improbable, seemed like a perfect fit to me.

More *illustrious* ideas with Julian in Part 2….stay tuned!

neelthemuse@ 2013

7 thoughts on “Illustrating Poetry with Julian Peters- Part 1 Leave a comment

  1. To be able to see poems that we relished and enjoyed being expressed in a visual medium is always a delight. We would have had our own images while reading a work and when we see someone illustrating them, we try to recollect our own imaginings and connect the dots. Lovely post, Neelima.

  2. This is very interesting. The Prufrock illustration’s background reminds me of L S Lowry.

    I believe poetry can be combined much more with other media. The English poet Ian McMillan has just issued a book of short poems combined with photos of shoreline rubbish. I don’t particularly rate the poems, but the rubbish is great.

    I’m interested in illustration of poems that’s more impressionistic than it seems from this is that Julian Peters’ work is – more like “on the same theme, here’s a picture…”.

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