For the first time, a work by Ayn Rand has been adapted into comic-strip form.  “Anthem,” based on the controversial philosopher and novelist’s 1938 novella has been turned into a graphic novel.  Adapted by Charles Santino and drawn by Joe Staton. I’ve got to say, it’s quite an improvement over the original.

Santino has taken Rand’s cautionary tale about a future that is highly unlikely to ever happen and turned it into a great little post-apocalyptic adventure tale. Rand’s histrionic idea of a society that condemns individuality works quite well without her preachy prose dragging down the plot.

“Anthem” tells the story of Equality7-2521, a street sweeper who lives in the dark ages of the future. A future where all decisions are made by committee and individualism has been outlawed. Yes, it’s the kind of world that Glenn Beck might dream up if he eats too much spicy food, then falls asleep reading about Obama’s healthcare bill.

Some of Joe Staton's gorgeous pencil art

Aside from the simplistic theme (individuality is good) and the implied theme (governments will try to wipe out individuality), “Anthem” is a fun little story of one guy fighting the system. In this case, “the system” is a ham-handed allegory for god-only-knows-what was going on in that woman’s mind, but in this format it makes for an entertaining read.

Santino has shaped the story into a stirring adventure. Major kudos go to him for ironing out some of the more cringe-inducing elements of Rand’s novella, while remaining true to the story. He does a great job conveying the isolation of Equality 7-2521 using sparse dialogue.

Joe Staton’s art is a revelation. I’ve been a fan of Staton since the mid-1970s, and I’ve always been impressed with his versatility and story-telling ability. Rather than being a slave to realism, Staton mixes a healthy dose of classic cartooning into his art, and it makes his work very distinctive. (A couple of weeks ago in “Cool Comics” I brought you the news that Staton will be taking over the art duties on “Dick Tracy” in March.  He’s perfectly suited to the job)

In “Anthem” Staton’s art has been reproduced directly from his penciled artwork (normally comic book art is “inked,” a process where, usually a different artist, goes over the pencil artwork in ink so it can be reproduced more clearly).

Click this page to see a larger version of Staton's artwork

It’s clear from seeing his work in “Anthem” that Staton has not always been well-served by his inkers.  The line quality on display here is stunning, and this may be some of the best work I’ve seen from him.  He’s working in a confined format here–three panels per page, on every page, but the composition within the panels is so strong that you don’t miss the flashy layouts that are so common in contemporary comics.

This graphic novel gives you the feel of looking through really high-quality storyboards for a movie. In fact, if they wanted to film “Anthem,” they’ve got their script and storyboards here.

If you’re a fan of the original, you should get a real kick out of this comic-book version. If you’re not familiar with Rand’s work, this is a pretty painless introduction.

The comic-book historians out there might think that I’m glossing over the Ayn Rand-inspired work by Steve Ditko (the reclusive co-creator of Spider-man), but his “Mr. A” comics, though clearly influenced by Rand’s Objectivism are not direct adaptations of her work.  They are marvelously crafted and seriously disturbing, so you might want to seek them out.

“Anthem” is published by New American Library. ISBN 978-0-451-23217-5, the list price is $15.00 and you can order it from Amazon, or order it locally from Taylor Books.  It’s being solicited through comic shops this month, too, so you might want to check with Lost Legion Comics and Games, The Rifleman, on the West Side, too.