Review: Cold Mountain: The Legend of Han Shan and Shih Te The Original Dharma Bums

I remember when I started to read books. Like most children, what the school assigned us to read and what we liked to read were often worlds apart. I was never in a class where they would recommend both The Great Gatsby and Fahrenheit 451. One is considered part of the great canon of American Literature while the other is considered radical in its thinking but is now considered one of he forefathers of dystopian fiction. It wasn’t until I got out of school before I read about any of the beat writers, including the oftspoken Jack Kerouac.

Kerouac’s seminal work, On The Road gives readers the best presentations of his philosophy and way of life. He’s one of the more well known writers of his decade and of this subset. Pop culture has gotten to know him from TV shows like Quantum Leap. Contrary to popular belief, this school of thought that the Beat Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, did not start with these young stallions, but with two “dharma bums.” Sean Michael Wilson, Akiko Shimojima, and J.P. Seaton’s have put together a rather ingenious take on the Chinese legend of Han Shan and Shih Te in the brilliantly told Cold Mountain: The Legend of Han Shan and Shih Te The Original Dharma Bums.

Within the first few pages, we meet Han Shan, who we come to know as “Cold Mountain.” He gives readers a brief history of who he is and his attempts at living a rather ordinary life. He’s a young man seemingly failing at everything from being a scholar, to a soldier, to a farmer, and even being married. This is until he receives an epiphany and finds the courage to stand up to authority, religious and secular, and to fight social injustice. Thus sparking a movement. We also meet Shih Te, Shan’s young protégé, whose undying loyalty leads to the two being coined “The Laughing Pair.” They leave their poetry on tree trunks and rocks. The graphic novel allows the reader to follow this duo and their many fabled tales and the poems they inspired. It gives readers a more concise view of these brilliant philosophers.

Overall, an excellent graphic novel about these almost mythical figures which may have very well birthed modern philosophy. The story by Wilson and Seaton is smart, funny, and engaging. The art by Shimojima is sophisticated and virtuous. Altogether, it’s an elegant tome which pays tribute to the godfathers of “dharmic bliss”.

Story: Sean Michael Wilson Translation: J.P. Seaton Art: Akiko Shimojima
Story: 10 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.7 Recommendation: Buy