“Beowulf,” an epic poem written roughly a thousand years ago in Old English — a language that is quite different from the modern-day version we use — has been adapted many times whether in film, on television, as an opera, a stage play and even new novels inspired by the original.
But it’s safe to say that Santa Rosa cartoonist Alexis Fajardo brings something new to the ancient tale, created by an anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet, of the Scandinavian hero Beowulf’s battle against the monster known as Grendel.
“Kid Beowulf: The Song of the Roland,” the second in his series of full-color graphic novels published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, came out late last month, and scholars of classic literature who read it are in for a few surprises.
For one thing, in Fajardo’s retelling, Beowulf and Grendel are 12-year-old twin brothers, even though Beowulf is human and Grendel is a monster. The family history behind that circumstance is a little complicated, but let’s just say it’s a family tree of mythical proportions. The family reunions are pretty exciting.
“It’s very post-modern,” Fajardo explained dryly. “It’s very much a soap opera, family feud kind of thing. And I love these old epics. First and foremost, I’m trying to write a good story.”
Inspired by classic European comic album series such as “Tintin” and “Asterix,” Fajardo aims to create his own historical epic through a dozen volumes, in which his characters travel the world. The new installment takes us to France, and future destinations include Spain, Italy, Greece and even Japan.
“I’m a self-taught cartoonist. My style is very cartoony,” said Fajardo, 41, an East Coast native who settled in Santa Rosa in 2007. Born in Concord, N.H., Fajardo got his bachelor’s degree from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. He had been fascinated by Greek, Roman and Norse tales since boyhood. “I was 7 or 8 when I got a big book of these classic stories, and I didn’t shy away from the gruesome parts,” he recalled. “I felt like I was on the edge of danger, and I wasn’t sure if I should be reading this stuff or not.”
And of course, that made the stories irresistible.
While in college, he launched his first attempt at translating the classics into graphics, with a weekly comic strip in the college newspaper titled “Plato’s Republic,” which he continued after graduation as a daily strip online until 2004.
“I eventually realized it wasn’t strong or funny enough for a daily strip,” he said.
That’s when Fajardo turned to Beowulf and found the inspiration for his new series.
The original publisher of the Kid Beowulf books was Bowler Hat Comics in Portland, Ore., which printed the black-and-white versions of Fajardo’s first two installments, “Blood-Bound Oath” and “Song of Roland,” between 2008 and 2011.
“They went out of business in 2011 and I bought back the rights and went back to self-publishing until I landed my now current publisher, Andrews McMeel, who relaunched those first two books in color,” Fajardo said. The color version of “Blood-Bound Oath” came out last summer.
“There’s a version of Kid Beowulf floating around the world that I did in 2004,” he said. “I did a whole self-published version of the story that I would take to show and pitch to publishers. It’s very different from this new version. The artwork was cruder.”