Weaving Faustian parable with Soviet satire, Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel is a curious and daring choice for SelfMadeHero’s new range of literary adaptations. Credited as an early example of magic realism, the novel charts the misadventures of the black magician Woland as he descends upon the resolutely atheistic Moscow of the 1930s. It soon transpires that Woland is, in fact, the devil, and his onstage conjuring tricks are all too real. Meanwhile, a novelist writes about Pontius Pilate’s encounter with Christ, and a talking cat burns down a literary club whose chairman is decapitated by a tram.
In late 2006, Moscow’s Bulgakov Museum was defaced by a religious fanatic who denounced The Master and Margarita as Satanic propaganda. Klimowski and Schejbal’s daring graphic novel appropriately fills every frame with the air of imminent apocalypse. Woland is genuinely weird and unsettling, part hero, part anti-hero.
More suggestive than descriptive, the artists’ eccentric illustrations seem to create their own narrative devices as they go along. The book effortlessly captures the uncanny dream logic at the heart of Bulgakov’s prose, and seamlessly alternates between Klimowski’s baroque inkwork and Schejbal’s sparse paintings.