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The New Adventures of Beowulf

You may know BEOWULF, but do you know him as a boy? You do if you’ve read Alexis E. Fajardo’s fun-filled (and incredibly educational!) adventure series KID BEOWULF. The series, now three books in, has been chronicling what came before the epic BEOWULF and what led to creating the incredible hero (along with his twin brother, Grendel). We talked to Fajardo about putting a twist on a classic.

 

What was your first exposure to Beowulf?

I've always been drawn to mythology and read Greek and Norse myths voraciously when I was a kid. It wasn't until I got to high school that I read BEOWULF and I read it as an epic poem, not a novelization. Something about the poetry made the story really come alive for me and I immediately fell in love with it and epic poetry in general --- BEOWULF lit my brain on fire.

 

You’re a student of the classics. Are you a BEOWULF scholar as well?

I'm a scholar of BEOWULF only in the sense that I've read the original a few dozen times and I'm always reading about it to learn more. I'm by no means a medieval scholar or have a PhD in the subject. I studied classics in college (specifically Greek studies) and love the research part of making these graphic novels because I can pretend to be a scholar.

 

What made BEOWULF a good candidate for a kids’ comic book series?

I think it's a natural fit! Heroes like Beowulf, Roland, and El Cid were the superheroes of their age; they defeated monsters, fought wars, and saved nations. The epics of the world are vastly entertaining and I wanted to introduce them to readers who might not be familiar with them and do it in a form (i.e., comics) that would invite them in without hesitation.

 

Where did your idea for KID BEOWULF originate?

The idea sprung from the silly notion of the huge, hulking, warrior Beowulf as child --- it seemed immediately funny to me. I started to play around with it a little and saw similarities between Beowulf and his archrival, the man-eating monster Grendel. I decided to make them twin brothers and spin out their origin story, which is what Kid Beowulfis all about: It chronicles the adventures of the brothers interacting with other epic heroes and growing up, slowly discovering their true destiny, which is to one day fight each other. Kid Beowulfis a prequel to BEOWULF.

 

BEOWULF scholars can be touchy about modern reimaginings of the work. What has their reaction to KID BEOWULF been? Have you won them over?

Actually, some of Kid Beowulf's most ardent supporters and fans are medieval scholars and professors! So much so that they use it in their classes. I think the perception of scholars being touchy about adaptations is that invariably those adaptations pale in comparison to the original text --- but if the adaptation is done with care and can point readers to the source, then I think they're valid. Scholars have a sense of ownership with these tales, but that's only because they love them so much. Last spring I went into the lion's den and exhibited at the Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and sold out of all my books! Medievalists are excited by what I'm doing because they know Kid Beowulf is about pushing people back to the original source material and engaging with it.

 

Are the books as fun to write as they are to read?

I do have a lot of fun putting these books together and honestly, I can't think of anything else I'd rather do than write and draw these stories, so it's rewarding to know the fun is translating to the reader!

In the latest book, KID BEOWULF AND THE RISE OF EL CID, you take young Beowulf and Grendel to Spain. How much research did you have to do to make this story work?

The Kid Beowulf series is basically a travelogue through mythology and culture, so each new book presents a new challenge in adapting the original epic of the country I'm in and fitting it into the overall KidB story. For El Cid, I read lots of books about Spain in the 11th century and tried to understand the nuances between the warring factions of Christians and Muslims. It was very research-intensive, but I think it better served the story in the end.

 

El Cid is a national hero of Spain. How did you approach him as a young knight in this story?

I was really interested in telling the story of how the young knight, Rodrigo Díaz, became the national hero called El Cid. In the original epic, El Cid is at the height of his power and has already won his famous title. He's also a complicated figure, because he's at once a good knight and family man, but also a mercenary who fought against and also alongside the Moors. My story tries to unpack all that and show Rodrigo as a young man who wants nothing more than to be a great, chivalrous knight but lives in a world where those values get tested. Rodrigo's "black and white code" gets tested in a country that is full of shades of gray; in the end he transcends all that and trades in one name for another.

 

You’ve also developed a reading guide that parents, teachers, and kids can use along with the series. What does it entail and how can readers get a copy?

In 2012, I ran a Kickstarter to help fund Kid Beowulf and the Rise of El Cid and one of the stretch goals was to develop a reader's guide with education and comics expert Dr. Katie Monnin. At first, the guide was going to be a small companion piece with discussion questions and lesson plans for the trilogy, developed by Katie and aligned to the new Common Core Standards. The more we worked on it, the bigger it got as I uncovered lots of making-of art from over the years and the books just started to naturally get bigger. What we ended up with is a 240-page book that teachers, librarians, and fans are going to gobble up as it traces the history of Kid Beowulf, including never-before-seen art, in-depth character dossiers, lesson plans, how-to sections, a bibliography, and tons more --- all aligned to the new Common Core Standards. The Kid Beowulf Reader is available as a book and a PDF download at AMAZON and my website.

 

When can we expect the fourth volume in this series? And where do you plan on taking Kid Beowulf this time?

Right now I'm working on a series of short stories that feature some of the secondary characters from the first trilogy; sort of an "untold tales" anthology. I'm also in the middle of colorizing the series and posting it online as a webcomic. Between all that, I'm going to start researching and writing book four, where Beowulf and Grendel run into another set of twins, Romulus and Remus, and get caught up in the founding of Rome --- that one's going to be fun!