Is Anyone Playing With Classics Anymore?

Does anyone know of a show, comic book, cartoon series, etc that is injecting classic literature/music/art, etc in a similar manner that Bugs Bunny cartoons had classical music soundtracks?

Every so often someone mentions how Carl Stalling injected classical music under the Warner Brothers cartoons. Or as in the case of classics like the Rabbit of Seville and What’s Opera Doc, did their own interpretations of opera.

While people mention the cartoons frequently, I don’t recall anyone asking why there isn’t anyone clever enough to do something similar today.

Some years ago, I wrote about how Donald Duck comics sell 250,000 copies a week in Germany where the Disney icon is adored far more than in the US. Donald is much more erudite in Germany. According to the Wall Street Journal, thanks to translator Ericka Fuchs who references German culture,

He was a bird of arts and letters, and many Germans credit him with having initiated them into the language of the literary classics. The German comics are peppered with fancy quotations. In one story Donald’s nephews steal famous lines from Friedrich Schiller’s play “William Tell”; Donald garbles a classic Schiller poem, “The Bell,” in another. Other lines are straight out of Goethe, Hölderlin and even Wagner (whose words are put in the mouth of a singing cat). The great books later sounded like old friends when readers encountered them at school. As the German Donald points out, “Reading is educational! We learn so much from the works of our poets and thinkers.”

When I was younger, I used to read Classics Illustrated which adapted literature into comic book form. More recently, I have read manga/manhua books and seen anime based on historic events and classical literature of Japan and China. While they aren’t completely true to the source material, (nor was Bugs Bunny, after all), they are relatively popular and introduce readers and viewers to the basic people and dynamics in an engaging way. Obviously it can be done and be well received.

Other than TNT’s loose adaptation of William Shakespeare’s lift, I can’t think of any current attempt in this vein, but perhaps I am nothing thinking and looking broadly enough. To clarify, I am thinking more about ongoing, long term efforts to use content rather than attempts to revive and/or reinterpret a single piece of content on Broadway or in a movie.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts at Shawnee State University. Among the things I am proud to claim are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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