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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Two Graphic Novel Adaptations of Classics

Deas, Robert (2008) Manga Shakespeare Macbeth.  New York:  Amulet



The Manga Shakespeare series has done a really nice job of presenting Shakespeare's work using graphic novel techniques in a way that will grab student's interests.  Remember, Shakespeare didn't write the plays in hopes that some day high school students throughout the world would read them in manuscript form.  What makes Shakespeare so wonderful is to see the script interpreted by actors who understand the words, embody the characters, and add another layer of meaning to the experience.  Deas does exactly that in giving us the body movements, facial expressions, and interpersonal actions that make clear how characters are connected to each other and how they react to what is said. 

But this is no classic comics full of talking heads.  Deas's illustrations are exciting and interesting, though as you can see form the cover, the isn't the Macbeth of 12th century Scotland exactly.  Oh, Shakespeare's words are intact, but Deas moves the story to post-apocalyptic Japan.  And, although some readers might find it a bit weird, it works.  As countless avant garde productions have proven time and time again, Shakespeare's plots and writing can stand up to a lot and not only still make sense, but still carry profound ideas. 

I much prefer this version to the paraphrased graphic novel versions that substitute bland updated language for Shakespeare's original.  Like a good production, Deas's art will help students figure out the more tricky stuff just by combining the sense of the words with the appearance of those who are saying them and those that are hearing them.

This version is probably best for high school English classes.  Adventurous middle school teachers might give it a shot too.




Bingham, Jerry (1984) Beowulf.  Chicago:  First.



Look, Beowulf has always been a comic book story.  Sure we dress it up as a classic epic poem, point out to students the beautiful alliterative lines and creative descriptive phrases, but the bottom line is, this is a story about a cannibalistic, serial-killing monster with powers beyond those of regular humans who ends up facing a stranger form far away who has strength and cunning beyond that of mortal men.  Beowulf, the super-hero, defeats Grendel, the super-villain, but like any good comic book, the story continues, and Beowulf must face an even worse monster -- Grendel's mother.  After another epic battle in which Beowulf saves the world, he seems to retire, then comes out of retirement to battle a dragon of unexplained origins.  See, totally a superhero story.

Bingham embraces that idea.  His drawings of hyper-muscled heroes; evil, twisted monsters; and bikini-clad women whose only purpose seems to be to stand next to the hero during the victory celebration (and occasionally to scream at the monster).  Reading this book is pretty much like reading Robert Howard's Conan the Barbarian.  And I don't mean to suggest that is necessarily bad.  This sort of presentation might get some middle school and high school readers excited about epic poetry and event literature in general who had previously not given it a second thought.

Having said that, while Bingham's text might be a useful one for comparing to the original text, I still prefer what Gareth Hinds did with the story.  Hinds's art isn't necessarily as exciting as Bingham's, but Hinds has a better grasp of the story.

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