Goodreads: Romeo and Juliet
The feud between the Capulets and the Montagues is a plague upon the city of Verona, where swordfights between the factions constantly break out in the streets. How unfortunate then that Juliet Capulet should fall in love with Romeo Montague! Gareth Hinds adapts Shakespeare’s famous play into a graphic novel.
Plenty of graphic novel versions of Shakespeare exists for the teen trying to get through high school or just ace the standardized test. Many are geared specifically for these types of educational purposes, meaning that the artwork is often secondary to the desire for the creators to offer a legible text, whether that means putting Shakespeare’s words into modern English or otherwise adapting it for simplicity. Gareth Hinds’ work, while dedicated to teachers, goes beyond mere utilitarian purposes; it is a work of art, not a study cheat sheet.
The artwork alone stands out. Here you get glorious color, not cheap black-and-white, as well as a nice amount of detail. The illustrations are layed out thoughtfully to create meaning in the text. And the depictions of the characters show real emotion, real action. You can tell there’s thought behind each scene, a real desire to convey the story and to elicit a response in the reader. The art is not secondary here; it’s a part of the work.
The thoughtfulness of the illustrations actually makes it easier to follow the text even though Hinds doesn’t modernize it like a “No Fear” adaptation (though he does abridge the work). It mirrors the action one might see on stage, so one can understand that a person is lying or a person is upset or a person is about to draw his sword. If you can’t follow the words, you can follow the art.
The words themselves are layed out thoughtfully. Often graphic novels like these seem to put all the major speeches in one large block of text on a page. This does not really work well in the graphic novel medium. Hinds finds a way to break up the text and still make it clear that it’s all of a part. He doesn’t lose the power of a speech by trying too hard to highlight that power.
All of this is interestingly part of a work that seems to want to present itself as somewhat scholarly. It comes with a dramatis personae, with footnotes, with a note about the texts consulted. It also explains the decision to present a multiracial story–not, Hinds says, to comment on race divisions but instead to highlight the “universality” of the play. The implication is that this is a work to be taken seriously, even if graphic novels generally are not.
Altogether, reading this adaptation was a treat. The artwork really makes the story come alive, suggesting the emotions and staging one might see in a theatre performance. Those who find reading Shakespeare dull because they have difficult imagining the staging themselves might see the Bard anew through the eyes of Hinds.