Classics in Graphics

The true test of a good graphic novel of a classic is whether the graphic adaptation has a long shelf life.

Published: 30th June 2021 10:46 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th June 2021 10:47 AM   |  A+A-

BENGALURU : Of late, I’ve started re-reading some of my favourite books just to check if they still resonated with me the way they did when I first read them. And that gave me the idea of re-reading in a different format - graphic novels of classics. I first read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five two decades ago. I reread it more recently – the graphic novel version by Ryan North and Albert Monteys. Having visited Dresden as a tourist, I realized the images in the graphic format added to the original. I could imagine what Dresden looked like before and after the firebombing. Although I enjoyed reading the graphic format, the characters sometimes felt a little cartoony.

Re-reading George Orwell’s Animal Farm by Brazilian illustrator Odyr was more captivating, as the animals came to life. I learnt all my Indian mythology from comics. More recently, graphic novels have come with innovative adaptations. Ramayana 3392 A.D, the brainchild of Deepak Chopra and Shekhar Kapur, is written by Shamik Dasgupta with art by Abhishek Singh.

It an imaginative re-invention of the epic set in a post-apocalyptic future. Sita: Daughter Of The Earth by Saraswathi Nagpal and Manikandan is another outstanding graphic adaptation. For many people who might balk at reading classic works of literature, graphic novels are an effective way to be introduced to classics in a visual and more digestible fashion. It is a great way for reluctant readers or those with a time crunch to access classics. However, a lot depends on the way the stories are narrated. The retelling should be as close to the original as possible without appearing to resemble a comic book. The true test of a good graphic novel of a classic is whether the graphic adaptation has a long shelf life.

An unintended consequence is that a graphic novel is easier to translate into languages as it has minimal text. Gareth Hinds is the prolific creator of critically-acclaimed graphic novels based on literary classics, including King Lear, The Merchant of Venice (which Kirkus called “the standard that all others will strive to meet” for Shakespeare adaptation), The Odyssey, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth (which the New York Times called “stellar” and “a remarkably faithful rendering”).

However, his landmark achievement was a graphic novel of The Iliad, a complex endeavour as the epic contains myriad characters. Gareth introduced the characters by dedicating a page to the cast and assigning a colour to each god. Gareth says that he had initially targeted a readership of schoolchildren but the book has now reached all age groups. One of the best graphic novels of a modern classic is Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale beautifully realised by artist Renée Nault.

The novel explores themes of subjugated women in a patriarchal society and the means by which they attempt to gain independence. Other graphic novels of modern classics that I have enjoyed are Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel illustrated by Fred Fordham; Herman Melville’s Moby Dick illustrated by Christophe Chaboute; Anne Frank’s Diary adapted by Ari Folman and illustrated by David Polonsky; and Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist illustrated by Daniel Sampere.

The challenge will be to do a graphic adaptation of the classic The Catcher in the Rye. As Robertson Davies said, “A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight.” And when it comes to classics, they should be read in different formats too!

(The author is a technologist based in Silicon Valley who is gently mad about books)


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