I have seen graphic novel adaptations of classics range from the perfectly adequate to the pretty terrible. I had never, until recently, seen one that I absolutely loved.
I am concerned at times, that publishers decide to adapt classics merely to capitalize on the popularity of the graphic novel format, rather than because these adaptations are produced with care and quality. A good comic is like a good movie, the words and pictures work together to tell the story. So I was particularly pleased when I ran into not one, but two excellent examples of this in Marvel Illustrated’s editions of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility adapted by Nancy Butler. Butler has taken great care with Austen’s novels. She obviously loves these stories and has delved deeply into them to present them intelligently and concisely.
I came across Pride and Prejudice in my local comic book shop, and was intrigued by the modern interpretation of the cover. Elizabeth Bennett poses as if on a teen magazine, surrounded by headlines such as: “Bingley Brings Bling to Britain” and “Who is Mr. Darcy?” The rest of the comic stays true to the original in tone and dialogue. Elizabeth’s wry expressions and rapier wit are well presented. The other Bennett girls are an amusing flock of pretty young ladies, preening and gossiping. Mr. Darcy is cold, shy, and handsome as he ought to be. Hugo Petrus’ illustrations have a warm earthy palette that works well indoors as well as out. His realistic style resembles many current western comics, which helps make the story feel accessible.
At another visit to the same comic book shop, I saw that Butler had adapted another of Austen’s novels,
Sense and Sensibility.This graphic novel is equal to, if not even better, than Pride and Prejudice. Sonny Liew’s manga inspired art and soft palette illustrates the delicacy of the Dashwood girls, as well as their playfulness. The cover gets right to the heart of the characters, calm, sensible Elinor looks plain and cool, while passionate Marianne has a bit more contrast with her dark hair and expressive wink. Chibi characters were also used to good effect, showing lighthearted scenes, or particularly ridiculous situations.
I’m glad to see graphic novel adaptations of these stories. They compliment the numerous films that have been made of Austen’s work, adding variety to an already large game of compare and contrast. These stories remain relevant even today because Austen creates interesting, dynamic characters, women who fascinate, and make you really want to stay with them until everything works out in their favor. It is fun to see them illustrated.
Butler will give us a third Jane Austen adaptation for Marvel Illustrated in October of this year, Emma with illustrations by Janet Lee, whose Return of the Dapper Men is already on the nominations list for next year’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens. I look forward to another enjoyable, accessible, and beautifully illustrated Austen adaptation.
-Erin Daly, listening to Swamplandia! in the car, and re-reading The Mortal Instruments Series to prepare for the April 5 release of City of Fallen Angels.