Howl: A Graphic Novel. Allen Ginsberg’s poem illustrated by Eric Drooker

by |November 22, 2010

You’d think one group of writers, The Beats, would escape being revitalised by the addition of paranormal paraphernalia – if you added zombies to On the Road or Naked Lunch, who would notice, right?

But the genius of modern publishing has managed to evoke the malaise of the day on the cover of an illustrated edition of Howl.

Is that a werewolf on the roof?

Sure looks like one.

I’d better buy it then, says the enthusiast, presumably. It will sit nicely on the shelf between my copy of Twilight and my copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Hmmm… Of course, there is a chance that those who would never ordinarily read a Beat poet might now, because of the cover, actually read Howl.

There’s a good chance, too, that parents who should know better (ie: they should have heard of Ginsberg and of Howl) might buy this poem, packaged as it is, for their sixteen year old son or daughter…

I have to admit I get a kick out of imagining kids swapping the lyrics of Rhianna for some lines of Ginsberg’s still provocative poesy. (Lines I wanna but can’t even reproduce here!)

Then again, there is a film coming… A film could easily sanitise Howl. Not by changing anything of the text, but by exposure.

Nothing mass produced can retain its power to shock for long.

Publisher guff:

Beat movement icon and visionary poet, Allen Ginsberg was one of the most influential poets of the twentieth century, and broke boundaries with his fearless, pyrotechnic verse. The apocalyptic ‘Howl, originally written as a performance piece, became the subject of an obscenity trial when it was first published in 1956.

It is considered to be one of the defining works of the Beat Generation, standing alongside that of Burroughs, Kerouac, and Corso. In it, Ginsberg attacks what he saw as the destructive forces of materialism and conformity in the United States at the time, and takes on issues of sex, drugs and race, simultaneously creating what would become the poetic anthem for US counterculture.

In publishing Howl, I was curious to leave behind after my generation an emotional time bomb that would continue exploding in U.S. consciousness, in case our military-industrial-nationalist complex solidified into a repressive police bureaucracy.

I was also curious to see how (Eric Drooker) would interpret my work. And I though that with today’s lowered attention span TV consciousness, this would be a kind of updating of the presentation of my work . . . To me, the megalopolis landscapes are the most interesting – that gigantic skyscraper vision. he really captured that sense of Moloch I was going for in the second section of Howl – ‘Moloch whose buildings are judgement!’

I began collecting Drooker’s posters soon after overcoming shock, seeing in contemporary images the same dangerous class conflict I’d remembered from childhood, pre-Hitler block print wordless novels . . . to solitary artist dwarfed by the canyons of a Wall Street megalopolis lay shadowed behind my own vision of Moloch . . .

What ‘shocked’ me in Drooker’s scratchboard prints was his graphic illustration of economic crisis similar to Weiman-American 1930s Depressions . . .  Drooker illustrated the city’s infrastructural stress, housing decay, homelessness, garbage-hunger, and bitter suffering of marginalized families, Blacks and youth, with such vivid detail that the authoritarian reality horror of our contemporary dog-eat-dog Malthusian technoeconomic class-war became immediately visible . . .

As I’d followed his work over a decade, I was flattered that so radical an artist of later generations found the body of my poetry still relevant, even inspiring. Our paths crossed often . . .


Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) is one of America’s great poets. As the chief figure among the Beats, Ginsberg changed the course of American poetry, liberating it from closed academic forms with the creation of open, vocal, spontaneous, and energetic postmodern verse. Ginsberg’s raw tones and attitudes of spiritual liberation also helped catalyze a psychological revolution that has become a permanent part of our cultural heritage, profoundly influencing not only poetry, popular song, and speech but also our view of the world.

First published in 1956, Ginsberg’s poem, “Howl,” is a prophetic masterpiece—an epic raging against dehumanizing society that overcame censorship trials and obscenity charges to become one of the most widely read poems of the century.

Eric Drooker is a painter, graphic novelist, and cover artist for The New Yorker. He collaborated with Allen Ginsberg on the book, Illuminated Poems, contributing the art work as well as editing and designing the volume.

William S. Burroughs: A Man Within – is a feature-length independent documentary by Chicago Director Yony Leyser, in collaboration with BulletProof Film, Inc.

The film features never before seen footage of William S. Burroughs, as well as exclusive interviews with his closest friends and colleagues including John Waters, Genesis P-Orridge, Laurie Anderson, Peter Weller, David Cronenberg, Iggy Pop, Gus Van Sant, Sonic Youth, Anne Waldman, George Condo, Hal Willner, James Grauerholz, Amiri Baraka, Jello Biafra, V. Vale, David Ohle, Wayne Propst, Dr. William Ayers, Diane DiPrima, Donovan, Dean Ripa (the world’s largest poisonous snake collector), and many others, with narration by actor Peter Weller, and soundtrack by Sonic Youth.

The film investigates the life of legendary beat author and American icon, William S. Burroughs. Born the heir of the Burroughs’ adding machine estate, he struggled throughout his life with addiction, control systems and self. He was forced to deal with the tragedy of killing his wife and the repercussions of neglecting his son. His novel, Naked Lunch, was one of the last books to be banned by the U.S. government. Allen Ginsberg and Norman Mailer testified on behalf of the book. the courts eventually overturned their decision in 1966, ruling that the book had important social value. It remains one of the most recognized literary works of the 20th century.

William Burroughs was one of the first to cross the dangerous boundaries of queer and drug culture in the 1950s, and write about his experiences. Eventually he was hailed the godfather of the beat generation and influenced artists for generations to come. However, his friends were left wondering, did William ever find happiness? This extremely personal documentary breaks the surface of the troubled and brilliant world of one of the greatest authors of all time.

William S. Burroughs: A Man Within – is the first and only posthumous documentary about this legendary figure.

who sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling
4 Comments Share:

About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

Follow John: Twitter Website


  • November 22, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…”

    The poem defeated me, but I have never forgotten that first line. Maybe the graphic novel is the way to go? No Twilight, but I shall shelve it next to ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ 😉

    • November 22, 2010 at 4:09 pm

      It reads best if you haven’t washed for a little while.
      It has very rude words in it and sex stuff, too.
      Not suitable for the clean of mind or body, in other words.

  • November 23, 2010 at 11:51 am

    Goodness! I’m cancelling my order. And sending Portnoy’s Complaint back too!

    • November 23, 2010 at 12:14 pm

      Ha Ha! I see you have you peeked through the keyhole in Portnoy’s parents bathroom door…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *