Monday, April 11, 2011

Graphic Novels and the Classics

I should acknowledge right up front that I am totally new to graphic novels.  As a person who was never interested in comics even as a child, I really had no desire to explore the genre of graphic books at all.  But one day while I was wandering in the library, I stumbled across a few graphic versions of classic novels.  I was intrigued and picked up a few to look through.  I thought I would start with one of my very favorite books: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

Pride and Prejudice (Marvel Classics)The Marvel graphic novel version of Pride and Prejudice has a wonderfully clever cover. Mimicking teen-fashion magazines, it advertises themes like "Bingleys Bring Bling to Britain" and "How to CURE your BOY-CRAZY SISTERS!"  The art throughout is appealing (although quite often I was bothered by portrayals of women who seemed to be wearing 1980s makeup) and the language of the text sticks to the spirit of Austen's language.

Believing that girls often stand outside chatting when their male friends enter the comics shop, the writer-adapter of this GN, Nancy Butler, believed that a "girl book" could encourage more girls to read graphic novels.  I don't particularly care whether or not girls start reading more graphic novels, honestly.  What I do care about is whether or not they come to experience true Jane Austen books.  Butler believes the Marvel adaptation can do exactly that.  She argues that young readers will be introduced to the characters and might "be tempted to investigate the actual book."  I have my doubts about their ability to enjoy the Austen novel if their expectations are shaped by this light read.

But Butler's next argument, that adult readers who already love the novel might enjoy revisiting "their favorite characters in a graphic format" is undoubtedly true.  While I would prefer to reread the book, flipping through the graphic novel was a quick, enjoyable way to relive favorite moments.  In some ways it felt like watching a BBC adaptation--although the graphic novel adds the humor of playing an old classic off a modern art form.  Austen and other classic authors seem to respond beautifully to this kind of adventuresome play--as the success of the Classics-Zombies books also shows.  As Butler (who has also has also produced a Marvel version of Sense and Sensibility) says, "You don't update a classic; you give it free rein."

Although I'm intrigued with the idea, the concept of seeing my favorite books turned into graphic novels or comic strips really doesn't appeal to me in the end.   What do you think?  Do you have any favorite GN classics to recommend?


  1. This is pretty interesting - I'm not real familiar with these comics adaptations of classic novels. So, I can't offer any recommendations for those sort of comics (if that's what you mean by classics recommendations) but...if you're interested...I can recommend a few other classics of the genre that you should check out if this is something you're into exploring: Spiegelman's Maus I & II, Love & Rockets by the Hernandez brothers, Alison Bechdel's Fun Home or Dykes to Watch Out For, Lynda Barry, R. Crumb and/or Aline Kominsky-Crumb, and pretty much anything by Charles Burns or Joe Sacco. I promise that these are all good!

    -- ellen

  2. I only like graphic novels in very specific circumstances, but I've tended to like classic adaptations more than original stories. In fact, there was one book I read (The Trial by Kafka) that I had a hard time sorting out in my mind. I mean, it IS Kafka... I read the GN version, and it really helped to bring things together for me. For some reason, it just worked to see it all written in art form. That is my very favorite GN ever.

    On the other hand, I've had some really bad experiences, like with Crime & Punishment.

  3. I recently tried to expand into graphic novels and mostly decided it wasn't a format I cared for, although there are a few French ones I love such as Persepolis and The Rabbi's Cat series (both available in translation). I do remember having graphic versions of classic adventure novels that I enjoyed growing up, but that seems to be the type of story that would adapt well to a graphic format, rather than something more "literary" such as Austen.

  4. I do enjoy graphic novels, but I'm not terribly interested in the graphic versions of the classics. I have considered trying some of the Manga Shakespeares I've seen around--I think they sell some at the STC gift shop. I often find I enjoy the plays more if I know the gist of the story, and I think a graphic version of Shakespeare could be a good way to get acquainted with the story before seeing the play. Unfortunately, the only ones I've seen are for plays I already know well, and reading those doesn't appeal to me so much.

  5. For some reason GN adaptations of classic books annoys me. I wish I had a really good justification for that stance but I don't as I've never read any of them. Butler's comment about looking at them as a supplement rather than a replacement does make me feel a bit better about it though. :)

    I do, however, enjoy graphic novels from time to time. A few favorites: Jimmy Corrigan, Maus, the BONE series, and GNs by Joe Sacco - really well drawn and educational.

  6. I've read other graphic books, both fiction and nonfiction, and loved some of them (although the format itself is difficult for me to adjust to, since like you I never read comics in my youth). However, the idea of graphic adaptations of print books, particularly classics, just feels weird. I mean, a film adaptation is a compeltely different form, so that's alright. And audiobooks preserve every word the author wrote, so I'm firmly in favour of them as 'real' books (in fact, I didn't realise they could be considered anything else until I began blogging). But graphic adaptations essentially abridge the text, which bothers me. And you can't precisely say it's P&P by Jane Austen anymore, since there are now images which are central to the story created by someone else. But then what is it? (I have similar feelings, only stronger, for things like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; in that case, I flat out loathe the concept.) I did try out the graphic adaption of Origin of Species, which was neat since it included illustrations of some of the species Darwin was discussing, but I didn't realise beforehand his text would be abridged, so I felt a bit cheated. Anyway, they're definitely not for me, and I'm not sure how I feel about their existence as a whole. That's a gut reaction, though, and one I've realised isn't terribly popular. ;)

  7. No one here ever read a Classics Illustrated when they were a kid? This is a long ways from a new idea.


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