Kristen Haas Curtis on Chaucer

I will never forget my first experience reading the medieval English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer. 

If you’ve had this experience, you’re not alone! It took me about five weeks to warm up to him, but by the end of the semester, I was hooked.

Fast forward six years, and I’m now in the final year of my doctorate focusing on Chaucer’s work and the many adaptations and modernizations it has inspired. If you’re not (yet) familiar with Chaucer’s work, his writing displays a remarkable versatility, ranging from the tragedies of first love to talking birds to extended fart jokes, with a little bit of hagiography thrown in, too.

He’s smart and funny; he’s a keen observer with a knack for capturing personalities and situations in a way that still resonates today… that’s if you can make your way around the Middle English.  


As a reader, you have a couple of options: either you read it in modern translation or you use a text that includes extensive glossing to help you with the language. Most students end up working with the latter, as I did (and do) because the language really is fun once you get used to it.

However, the glossed text brings a problem of its own: bouncing back and forth across the page from text to gloss and back again can make it difficult to follow the story unfolding 


As I spent more time with Chaucer and began to think about adaptations and how they work, I started wondering if a story from Chaucer told in comic form might be able to provide a more inviting experience for new readers by using visual cues to aid in comprehension of the Middle English.  Could the combination of words and images for which comics are known actually function as a new kind of glossing on a very old text?  

This question became the core of my Masters thesis in 2020.

I decided to work with one of the stories from Chaucer’s famous Canterbury Tales, a long poem written in the late 14th century that follows a group of people going on pilgrimage who engage in a storytelling contest to pass the time as they travel (best story gets a free dinner)! I settled on abridging “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” as my text and I retained Chaucer’s Middle English in order to test my idea. I read, reread, planned, drew, and lettered and then I enlisted a couple of non-medievalist friends to read the nearly-finished comic for me and offer feedback. A couple more changes and it was off to print! 

Since then, my little chicken comic has been taught in classrooms, included in university reading lists, distributed and discussed at academic conferences, and a copy is currently on display at the Bodleian Library as part of the incredible “Chaucer Here and Now” exhibition.

And now? My chickens have come to roost with the fantastic Good Comics team. I hope you enjoy it! 

(Do you want to know more about Chaucer, adaptation, or chickens? In that case, you might enjoy this chat I had with Dan Berry last year on his podcast “Make It Then Tell Everybody.” Caution: contains John Dryden.)

3×23: Kristen Haas Curtis

Can you sum up your work in 3 words?

Autobio-meets-lit-crit (but fun)

(English majors cheat with hyphens…)

What comics plans do you have for 2023?

I have a few fun things going on! 

I’m still working on the comic, Repainting the Lion, that I’ve been drawing alongside my doctoral dissertation-in-progress since early 2021.

Academic work aside, diary comics are my first love so I will continue making those throughout the year, particularly when something very interesting or very mundane happens. I’ve been making them for ten years now and I can honestly say the practice has changed my life.

In keeping with the theme of diary comics, I also have some fun interactive projects coming up this year. For those who are new to my work, two things I love are using constraints in my diary comic (ahem #bythebones) and teaching other people (particularly those who think of themselves as “not artistic”) to experiment with diary comics. My Personal Comics Manifesto comes in two parts: a) anyone can make comics and b) perfectionism is keeping you from having a lot of fun in life. For me, comics are as much or more about the process of making them as they are about the comic you make. In my workshops, I encourage people to let go and play and take joy in whatever comes out but I also know that the fear of the blank page is a real thing. 

These ideas and interests are driving one of my current projects —  an interactive comic that provides both instructions and space for people of any artistic skill level to play around with their own life story and have fun making some comics. This project has been in my heart for a couple years now and I am so pleased to finally have it in the works (and it could not ask for a better home for it than Good Comics!) In the run-up to releasing this comic, I will be sharing an exercise or two right here on the Good Comics blog later this year, so be sure to keep an eye out!

Up to anything else exciting this year?

I’m in the third year of my PhD at the University of Bern in Switzerland, thinking about feminine aging and obscenity in eighteenth-century literary adaptations starring medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer’s Wife of Bath. (Interested? Check out Repainting the Lion!). As you might imagine, that’s pretty much filling most of my available time, but I’m having such fun with it that I don’t (generally) mind. I’m also invited to give a few guest lectures and classes about literary adaptation, making comics, Chaucer, and how those three things can fit together. Honestly, this is my dream!

I’m also looking forward to a trip back to the US to visit family later this year and a summer holiday in Ireland – both excellent excuses for making lots and lots of diary comics. It’s looking to be a very full year in all sorts of very nice ways!

Thanks Kristen! You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter, and also check out her website.