I first learned many of the legends and historical incidents of India by reading Amar Chitra Katha comics, so this graphic novel struck me as the perfect introduction to Romance of the Three Kingdoms when I saw it in Taiwan.

It is now several years and reading attempts later. Now that I’ve also seen Red Cliff, I think that is a better introduction. This is no knock on the book, which is a truly valiant effort to condense an enormous text into a single and slim graphic novel. Amar Chitra Katha’s Mahabharata was something like forty issues long, and probably would have been much more confusing if I wasn’t already familiar with Indian names and had additional exposure to the story via the Doordarshan miniseries (which is about 100 episodes long.)

Though there are many entertaining moments, I am still completely confused and forget who most of the bazillion characters are, except for the ones who were also in Red Cliff. I’m sure eventually I’ll become sufficiently familiar with Chinese names that this will be less of a problem for me, but it did not help that not only did everyone have their regular names, they also had courtesy names. It reminded me of when I was reading Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles for the first time, and I went through the entire book thinking that “Sir Walter Scott” and “Buccleuch” were two different people rather than the singular Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch.

On the positive side, the graphic novel has lots of decapitations (including one of a very startled-looking horse—poor horse!), done in a cartoony style with people shouting “Die!” This is something which I never fail to enjoy.

A few more highlights:

-Cao Cao claiming that he wasn’t trying to assassinate anyone, he was just giving him a sword!

-The caption “Zhuge Liang made his dazzling appearance.”

-Zhuge Liang’s totally awesome stratagem with the arrows and the straw bales.

-Huang Gai getting himself beat up for the greater good. I am certain John Woo will film this in a very slashy and fetishistic manner in Red Cliff 2, and I for one can’t wait.

-Zhou Yu and Zhuge Liang writing “fire” on their palms. (Zhou Yu comes across really differently here than he does in the movie!)

-The chapter title “Zhou Yu Exasperated To Death.”

-Guan Yu playing chess while undergoing surgery.

-The hilariously large-assed illustration of Guan Yu on page 105 – even worse since he’s being decapitated at the time. It’s his tragic death scene, and I could look at were his enormous, globular ass cheeks.

-Zhuge Liang winning a battle after his own death.

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