In concept, I like the idea of Abridged Classics, John Atkinson’s short, satirical summary of famous literature. I am very fond of his web comic Wrong Hands, which I reviewed here, but Abridged Classics is missing many of the characteristics I enjoy on Wrong Hands. What I like about Atkinson’s web comics are his puns, literary limericks, and creative ways of representing concepts from various disciplines, ranging from mathematics to philosophy. These jokes are relatable and have a more light-hearted satirical style than Atkinson uses in Abridged Classics.
Because of the subject matter and approach Atkinson has chosen, his comic collection faces a lot of challenges. Those who are fond of certain books may take offense at his offhand comments. I have to admit, many of the jokes about books I love fall flat because I disagree with Atkinson’s perspective, and the few details he chooses to highlight marginalize the best aspects or the main point of the stories. While this may be how satire is supposed to work, I did not find it all that enjoyable. On the other hand, with the stories one hasn’t read or even heard of, the satire loses a lot of its effect because the jokes are only funny for those who have actually experienced the story or at least know the general plot. I did laugh at a few of these (such as his summaries of Hemingway novels), but the majority left me confused and unamused. One of the few situations in which Atkinson’s summaries are funny, at least for me, is when they make jokes about books I have read and disliked, which I am guessing is what other readers would find to be true as well. After all, most of the jokes we laugh at are ones with which we agree, and because Atkinson’s humor often criticizes the texts, it will only be funny for audience members who don’t like the book or see the same flaws in it which Atkinson points out in his jokes. I also think that these satirical comics might be more enjoyable in a less concentrated dose because the jokes become a bit tired after you’ve read 10 or 15 in a row. Mixing in other types of comics might be a good solution to this, mimicking the variety Atkinson provides on his website.
If you are intrigued by the premise of this illustrated satire, you may want to give it a try and decide for yourself if Abridged Classics pulls off the task Atkinson set out to accomplish. In the meantime, though, I think I will stick with his web comics and wait for him to write—and perhaps publish—additional word puns, literary limericks, and jokes about literature, math, philosophy, and more.