Pantheon – An Uproarious NSFW Retelling Of Egyptian Mythology

by Staff

 

Pantheon, a graphic novel by Hamish Steele, was originally the product of crowdfunding, which led to a black and white paperback volume of great hilarity and surprisingly deep faithfulness to the source material–the house of Egyptian gods. Now, this book has been remastered in full color, with a new cover, into a hardback that’s coming out in August from Nobrow. The color edition is that much more striking in bringing these strange tales to life–you see, in fact, little hints at some of the painted art of the Egyptians in the color choices and are even more aware of how the flattened or profile-positioned art by Steele was always in homage to his sources.

Steele’s attitude is remarkably honest and direct in this book, while allowing for humor, adventure, and snark, as he approaches the family of gods who we usually associate with hushed grandeur among the tombs in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. It would have been relatively easy to turn this book into comedy shtick. Or instead tell a sobering and grim account of hideous vendettas, terrible massacres, and an unknowable universe.

It says a lot about Steele’s temperament that he wanted to recapture the zaniness, humor, and brutality of tales that were originally passed down like folktales, meant to amuse as well as comment on the nature of life. He hasn’t co-opted Egyptian mythology for his own purposes–he instead sees himself as part of a tradition in telling these stories and seems to warm to that role.

[Art shown is not final]

What Steele produces in Pantheon is the ultimate mythological approach in an “Honest Trailer” format–bouncy, lively, remarkable educative, and at times, laugh out loud disgusting. We start at the beginning of all things, and witness the foundation of the world. We see the rise of the gods in their strange, morphing interdependence on each other, their bristling rivalries, and the contentious relationship between gods and men.

But mainly we follow the family of the first Pharoah, Osiris, his wife and sister, Isis, his brother Set, and his son Horus. And their mad scramble to hold onto the throne through life, death, assassination attempts, boat races, scorpions, and yet more mayhem. Steele’s dialogue is top notch at keeping things light, throwing in slang, allusions, and blunt reactions at will. All while holding onto a natural warmth in the stories that shows their gore, sexuality, and questioning nature.  There’s plenty of sex and weird body humor that Steele is bringing over from the actual stories and puzzling them out with a self-awareness of modern perspective in the comic.

[Art shown is not final]

Steele’s artwork is a pleasure to spend time with, his stylization veering toward rounded shapes and crisp inking that keeps even conversation scenes fresh and lively. The addition of color only gives a greater sense of completion to what was already a real achievement in comics storytelling.

If you want to know more about Egyptian mythology, or even just want see what a modern cartoonist gets up to with ancient material, this is the book for you. But maybe don’t read it at work or leave it around kids. This is definitely one you can compare reactions to with like-minded adult friends, though. And those will be big reactions.

Pantheon is out in August from Nobrow.