2010, published by HJ Kramer & New World Library
Story: Dan Millman
Art: Andrew Winegarner
Peaceful Warrior: The Graphic Novel is an adaptation of Dan Millman’s 1980 bestseller Way of the Peaceful Warrior. A spiritual coming of age drama with an apparent Carlos Castaneda influence, it’s evidently a beloved book (as a quick search online will validate) that has touched the heart of many a directionless youngster. Victor Salva’s 2006 movie adaptation was poorly received by critics and devoted readers alike, and this graphic novel is based on Millman’s original screenplay written in 1990.
The semi-autobiographical tale of a gymnast (also named Dan) and his relationship with cantankerous gas station owner Socrates, Warrior follows the usual underdog formula, but laced with a mystical philosophy that progressively distances the plot from reality. Haunted by lucid dreams and self doubts, Dan’s rite of passage under Socrates’ stern guidance is one that will appeal to many younger readers, and definitely has an 80s vibe to it that fans of The Karate Kid, released several years after Millman’s novel, will identify with.
Andrew Winegarner’s illustrations aren’t especially sophisticated, but there’s a clarity to his visual narrative that keeps the graphic novel an engaging enough read throughout. Millman’s overbearing narration occasionally feels straight out of the Stan Lee era (every new scene is indicated by “Later in the locker room…” or “At the gym…”), but this is perhaps a by-product of the book’s film script origins. I also found Dan to be that special breed of flawless, middle-classed everyman who exists only in fiction, and I do wonder how more disadvantaged teens might interpret Millman’s morality tale.
Peaceful Warrior is cheesy new age nonsense, then, but not one without an understandable appeal. I’ve got to the point in my life where I’m not only incredibly cynical but content to be so, yet I’d genuinely love to see a generation of frustrated adolescents latch on to Millman’s values of discipline and abstinence. Any moral code that endorses a vegetarian diet also gets my vote.
Peaceful Warrior promotes a wholesome and inarguably beneficial ethos that probably won’t provide answers to all but the most impressionable youths, but our Western culture of binge-drinking hedonists and sardonic nihilists could arguably do with far more wise old gits encouraging kids to reach their full potential.