Literary Comics: Another Way to Consume the Classics
While Marvel Comics is more known for its superheroes, the publisher has been leading the way for intriguing adaptations of classic literature in recent years. The third of Eric Shanower‘s and Skottie Young‘s take on L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, Oz: Ozma of Oz, recently completely its single issue run. While the complete collection won’t be out in stores until October, it’s the perfect opportunity to catch up on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz.
Marvel has also published three of the works of Jane Austen, adapted by romance writer Nancy Butler and a few different artists. The most recent, Emma, which will be released as a collection in September, features Return of the Dapper Men artist Janet K. Lee. While her cartoony, Victorian-inspired artwork may not be for everyone, it’s a fun and refreshing take on Austen’s novel. Of the other two, Sense & Sensibility is delightful due to the sweetness of Sonny Liew‘s manga-inspired art, but Hugo Petrus‘ classic comic style is a complete mismatch for Pride & Prejudice.
If these Marvel titles aren’t quite enough, there seem to be forthcoming comic adaptations of classic and popular literature announced every week. From young adult classics like A Wrinkle in Time (due out next year by Hope Larson) to various adaptations of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs from Dark Horse Comics, there are plenty to choose from.
Perhaps three of the more interesting comic adaptations are of Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl (Harper Perennial) by Eric Drooker; Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush (Cinco Puntos Press) by Christopher Cardinale, which adapts one of Luis Alberto Urrea’s short stories; and Tim Hamilton‘s take on Ray Bradbury’s science fiction classic, Fahrenheit 451 (Hill and Wang).
Howl features images from the animated sequences Drooker created for the 2010 film and is a dreamlike journey through Ginsberg’s words. While it sometimes treads the line between what’s a “comic” and what’s an “illustrated poem,” it’s a beautiful marriage of words and images.
With his stylized art done on scratchboard, Cardinale’s Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush is a distinctive glimpse into growing up in a small Mexican town. Lovingly researched, Cardinale captures Urea’s world perfectly and honestly.
Hamilton’s Fahrenheit 451 was done with the explicit permission of Bradbury, and his respect for the source material definitely shows. Shifting from fiery reds and oranges to cold blues, Hamilton conveys Bradbury’s dystopian future through color and his shadowy images.
Other adaptations worth noting are the new edition of The Raven and Other Stories by Edgar Allan Poe upcoming from IDW and The Little Prince Graphic Novel (published in the U.S. by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Joann Sfar. Poe’s work has been adapted into comics quite a bit, but Ben Templesmith (of 30 Days of Night fame) and The Maxx artist Sam Kieth are a great match to his macbre stories. And while taking on The Little Prince seems at the very least unnecessary, in the hands of French artist Sfar, it’s a respectful, playful tribute to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic book for children and adults.
And finally, while Amulet Books’ Manga Shakespeare line may seem like one of those cheap grabs to get kids interested in the classics (they are primarily aimed at teenagers), they work better than they should. While creative teams do vary from book to book, the art, inspired by the style of Japanese comics, is always appealing. They range from fairly straightforward takes on the Bard’s works to more creative interpretations. Purists may object, but these do quite a bit to make William Shakespeare’s plays accessible without dumbing them down.
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