Sappho gets graphic in “House of the Muses”

Every 2,500 years or so, a lesbian poet comes along with the talent and intrigue to survive the scrutiny of literary snobs as well as women-loving women.

Sappho has always seemed a bit inaccessible to me, mostly because her work exists in fragments and I never quite trust scholars who take it upon themselves to fill in the blanks in a writer’s work. But history tells us that she certainly understood the passionate side of intimacy between women and that gives us reason to count her among our icons.

One of Sappho’s most enigmatic poems has to do with Mnasidika of Sparta (nicknamed “Dika”) and her journey to Lesbos. Sapphic scholars speculate that this particular poem actually may have been written by Dika herself, and included in her teacher Sappho’s works in order to preserve it. Dika’s adventure is the basis for Pam Harrison’s graphic novel miniseries, House of the Muses: The Latter Days of Sappho of Lesbos.

The six-part series follows Dika as she is sent to Lesbos as a slave and later escapes. Not surprisingly, much of it concerns her relationships with women.

When writer/illustrator Harrison originally conceived the story in 1987, it was in prose form with some accompanying sketches. But the time and effort required to get the project ready to publish was never enough, given the fact that Harrison had to work for a living. Fortunately, her job included work as a graphic artist and she eventually returned to school and learned how to use 3-D graphics software to draw the type of illustrations that appear in House of the Muses.

I’m not a big fan of computer-generated graphics in comics, but a friend who is into “Sims” thinks that the art is awesome. The images do look more like simulations than illustrations.

But the strength of House of the Muses is the story. This is a historical romance that keeps your attention, even when the descriptive passages go on a bit too long. In fact, the first issue takes a few pages to get going. Once you get to know Dika, however, you find yourself invested in her life and relationships. How can a page like this fail to give any red-blooded lesbian a shiver or two?

The first two issues of House of the Muses are available to read online or you can order them at or Prism Comics. Or ask your comic shop to order it. Issue three is scheduled for release by the end of the year.

Are you interested in reading House of the Muses? What do you think of the computer-generated art? Is a graphic novel a good medium for a story like Dika’s?