In which we continue with
A MONTH OF FABULOUS GRAPHIC NOVELS IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER!!!!!
(But, maybe it will be a year instead of a month).
I recently spoke to a class of preservice secondary teachers about YA literature, picturebooks and graphic novels. There were some great questions from the students, including finding resources such as Nerdy Book Club, Google Books, as well as the value of a great teen librarian.
One student voiced concern about “lightening” the curriculum by not including Shakespeare in the “original” form. I am not proud of what I said, “Actually, unless you are having the kids read off of wine stained sheets of parchment shared with syphilitic, illiterate actors in drag, then you aren’t sharing the original.”
What I should have said is the basis for this blog post.
After looking through dozens of graphic novel adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, from No Fear Shakespeare to the Classics Comics editions, as well as a mistaken adventure into Kill Shakespeare territory. But, after thinking there was no way to adequately transform plays I found Gareth Hinds work. For me what makes Hamlet or Macbeth or Lear worth the experience has never been struggling through the olde English on the page. Instead, Shakespeare has always been about hearing the colorful and entrancing language pour forth and paint a picture of terror, retribution, and duplicity standing shoulder to shoulder with loyalty, fidelity, and love.
Hinds work gives me the same kind of aesthetic experience as seeing a great production on the stage or screen. His illustrations are full of life and passion and they reflect a diversity of character and perspective that other adaptations lack.
When I first saw his Romeo and Juliet adaptation I was pleasantly by the obvious play to multicultural experience. Romeo has dark skin and kinky hair and looks Black or African American. On the other hand, Juliet looks somewhat Indian.
R and J is not one of my favorite plays and I don’t understand why we, as a society, have decided that high school freshmen need to read a play about a spoiled girl and a reckless boy selfishly destroying their families. But, for all of that, Hinds provided a new, much more colorful look at this tired teen trope. He stays with Shakespeare’s language and pacing of the story.
What makes Hinds R and J so much better than any of the others out there is his ability to give the reader a sense of emotional agitation. It is as if by the ways he uses uneven paneling, vibrant colors, implied movement that I can feel the train wreck quality to the story. Hinds uses quick transitions, disjointed panels, and constantly shifting perspectives, as in the fight scene on page 8 and 9, to keep the reader tense and uncomfortable. Tybalt’s hatred of Benvolios is seen clearly in panel 2/page 8. Note the sneer on his face, the tension in his muscles and the emerging red background.
In addition, Hinds gives us an overhead view of the entire fight, panel 1/page 9. See the guys running into the fray from the upper right and left corners? Although there is no actual movement, the implied motion is clear and cringe worthy. No good ever comes of a bunch of twits fighting in the street.
After reading R and J, I decided to seek out Shakespeare plays I actually enjoyed to see what Hinds did with them. Luckily for me he did my favorite of the tragedies, King Lear. There is nothing better than seeing the prideful king taken down a peg or eight, while Kent’s (for reasons I have never understood) loyalty is proven over and over. Cordelia’s level headed thinking and behavior along side her sister’s scheming ways remind me of Grimm Brother’s Cinderella. Although, I must admit I have never really understood or cared about the Edmund subplot, it was good for a laugh now and again.
Hinds delivers on a great play and more so. But, because I knew the play much better than R and J, I realized the text is original to the play but it is abridged. His selection of what to keep and what to leave make perfect sense. The illustrations do much of the work, and so there is no need for characters to explain their motives, or actions. We can see that Edmund is lying most of the time and why his brother Edgar takes on so many roles throughout the play.
In Lear Hinds uses fewer panels and instead relies on complex placement and character orientation to show the ways people are moving, both in space and in their loyalties. He often uses lightly colored paths to help the reader understand the order of events.
The changes in lettering, color schemes, and orientation make this a challenging book to read but it is well worth the time and effort.
Although Hinds changes his style dramatically, I thought after reading these two plays that I was ready for anything he was going to throw at me. And so I gladly picked up Merchant of Venice. But, I wasn’t ready … not at all.
Merchant is slate greys and dull blues with stylized pen and black ink. Each page looks like a piece of fine-point Scrimshaw or some sort of scratch art done on a computer.
Oh, and did I mention it is set in what looks like the 1920s? No? Did I mention he adapted the language to modern English? Yeah, cause Hinds is that kind of genius.