Like many of his own boyhood comic book heroes – Superman and Batman, for example – Alexis E. Fajardo leads two very different lives.
During the day, as a mild-mannered employee at the Charles Schulz Studio in Santa Rosa, he oversees the production of the ever-popular Peanuts comic books. At night, ensconced in his own cave-like work space, he hunkers down and follows his own creative spirit, turning out graphic novels about the Anglo-Saxon epic hero Beowulf, who battles hideous monsters, including his own twin brother.
“These days, I don’t have much time for a social life,” he says, shrugging. “But when inspiration arrives, you’ve got to follow along. It helps that I live across the street from the Schulz Studio so I don’t have to travel far to go from one identity to another.”
Two books in the saga – “Kid Beowulf and the Blood-Bound Oath,” and “Kid Beowulf and the Song of Roland” – have already been published by Bowler Hat Comics in Portland, Ore., and they’ve found a cult following among college students and post-grads too. Now, late at night, Fajardo is at work on the third in his bloody, gutsy series: “Kid Beowulf vs. El Cid.”
Ten more books are up his imaginative sleeve; they’ll take his hero around the world and into the ancient legends of Russia, Persia, India and Japan. Brave, battle-weary Beowulf has never found himself in so many different cultures, and so timely too. Indeed, he’s a sword-wielding hero for today’s text-messaging kids and laptop adults eager for adventure.
‘Kids of all ages’
Bo Johnson, Fajardo’s publisher at Bowler Hat, says that the books “appeal to kids of all ages” and that many dads explain that they wish the Beowulf series had been around when they were young.
“I don’t mean to leave out girls,” Johnson adds. “They identify with the female characters – Gertrude and Yrs in the first book and Bradamont, Belisande and Brammimond in the second. The books are not just boy-centric, which is a feat in itself, given the fact that the old myths are so male.”
A long journey
Fajardo’s own epic journey began in 1976 in New Hampshire, where he was born and raised on comics and cartoons: “Looney Tunes” on Saturday-morning TV, and during the week Pogo, and Calvin and Hobbes in the daily newspaper that was delivered to the front door. In his advance-placement English class in high school, he read “Beowulf,” and it’s fair to say that he hasn’t been the same person since.
“I think I was the only student who actually enjoyed reading ‘Beowulf’ as a poem in the translation by Burton Raffel,” he says. ” ‘Beowulf’ lit my brain on fire.”
As a classics major at Earlham College in Indiana, he read “The Odyssey” and “The Iliad” and was inspired by Homer’s warriors and wanderers.
“Right from the start, I could see how visual those two epics were, and how striking the language was,” he says.
When teachers asked him to translate ancient Greek into modern English, there was no holding him back. Had he been born in another era, he’d probably have gone on to write a doctoral thesis about Homer and then to teach the classics at a college.
“I loved all that Greek stuff,” he says. “I couldn’t get enough of it.”
But the comics hit him so hard there was just no way to resist their call. While he was an undergraduate at Earlham, he created his own weekly strip, Plato’s Republic, that was inspired by Doonesbury and that ran in the college paper, the Word. The four-panel strip featured a platypus named Plato, of course, along with friends both human and animal, and it became an instant classic on campus.
Fajardo didn’t know it at the time, but he had already found his talent for taking something old and turning it into something new. While he has always been enamored of the classics, he has never allowed himself to become a prisoner of them; he can even laugh at the ancient Greeks, including Plato, and at the ancient Anglo-Saxons, along with iconic Beowulf and his evil foe, Grendel.