THE SWIMMER
WITH A ROPE IN HIS TEETH

Written by Jeanne E. Shaffer
Adapted and illustrated by Howard Cruse
Prometheus Books
$14.00
www.prometheusbooks.com

Cruse has left his familiar, cartoony trappings (Wendel, Stuck Rubber Baby) behind to adapt this modern-day parable written 35 years earlier by a close friend in college. The departure was a risk for him - this isn't a comic book per se - and the art has the appearance of woodcuts - but Swimmer is simply the starkest, strongest book to appear from a comics creator in the past few years. This is the experiment of a great comic creator at the peak of his form.

Reading elegantly like a piece of undiscovered, yet modern mythology Swimmer tells of two lands - a Land of Good and Happiness - and a Land of Evil and Woe - divided by an immense river. The story tells of the brave Swimmer from the Land of Good who trains and trains to swim the river, dragging a rope to be tethered to the Land of Evil - in an attempt to unite the two lands. But the story isn't about the Swimmer or his swim - it's about Us - that is, the people of Land of Evil and Woe. Approaching the other side, the people of the Land of Evil immediately kill the Swimmer (they try to kill him with cannons but can't see him in the dark waters, fortunately a boy with a bow and arrow has better eyesight). The people then deify him and the effects of his journey without ever comprehending his simple purpose. The satire here on organized religion (particularly Christianity), the media, and America and Western Civilization in general is brutal, hard felt and evocative. And it is deceivingly simple. While there's some violence, this is a book that will not only satisfy general readers - but could have an impact on young students in grade school, high school and colleges.

Cruse, with Shaffer, has created a work that should stand next to Maus in it's use of comic sensibilities in conveying a vital, universal message.

—Alex Bernstein, Popimage

Howard Cruse returns with a new book in a style which is a huge departure from what his audience expects. ... The Swimmer With a Rope In His Teeth is a story by Jeanne Shaffer told in conjunction with Howard Cruse; it is an all ages fable in the tradition of Aesop. The art, which Alex Bernstein has already discussed here on the site, is simple and gorgeous, reminicent of woodcutting prints. I'm keeping a copy on my shelf; I'm buying a copy for my little nieces.

—Neil Kleid, Popimage

In his finest work—from his trailblazing gay comic strip, Wendel, to his award-winning graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby—author/illustrator Howard Cruse has offered insight and enlightenment, not just entertainment.  And The Swimmer with a Rope in his Teeth continues the tradition.  This seemingly simple, highly original fable by Jeanne E. Schaffer, adapted and illustrated with rare grace by Cruse, provides nourishment for the soul. Give it to someone you love, of any age.

—Chip Deffaa
author of Voices of the Jazz Age,
Blue Rhythms, and other books.
 

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