Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #76 by Drew Barth
Reframing and recontextualizing has been a staple of art since there have been more than two things to mash together. Remixes and found poetry exist as prime examples of how different works can come together to create something inherently different. And this is what Ronald Wimberly has accomplished with his work, Prince of Cats. Partly a reframing of Romeo and Juliet around Tybalt, Prince of Cats is a wild reinterpretation of a classic story.
Prince of Cats is a recontextualization and reimagining of Romeo and Juliet through the lens of what John Jennings in his introduction to this new edition refers to as a “see-jay.” Storywise, it is less concerned with teenage romance and more with the expectation of violence associated with gangs. Visually, Wimberly is able to blend elements from films like The Warriors and many of Kurosawa’s best, Afrika Bambaataa afrofuturist aesthetics, and graffiti culture from the early 80s to create a new world in which sword-dueling blossomed on the streets right next to hip-hop. He’s able to take these influences and not simply mash them together, but seamlessly incorporate iconic visuals into a new form—much in the same way a DJ would remix sounds to create a new song. It’s taking familiarity and providing a new context for our eyes.
Why does another reinterpretation of a Shakespeare story matter? We’ve already had Romeo and Juliet in modern times with gang violence and a distinct visual style, as much as we want to forget about it, so what does Prince of Cats give us? Tybalt is a doomed character in a world of underground sword dueling. Even when the page shows how he could have won against Romeo, the next page shows his fall. And his story is no longer that of the recipient of revenge; he becomes another aspect of a cycle of perpetuated violence. He is a swordsman of acclaim and hubris and dies due to that acclaim and hubris.
A reinterpretation of traditionally white stories by one of the best creators in comics is the kind of thing comics need right now. Wimberly and many other voices cannot go unheard or be diminished. We use our platforms to raise their stories as much as possible. It’s why now is the time to get active—with time, money, energy—to the organizations that need our attention the most.
Get angry. Get active. Get involved. Get reading.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.