William Shakespeare’s King Lear: A Graphic Novel by Gareth Hinds

king-lear-hindINFORMATION

Goodreads: King Lear
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2007

SUMMARY

Approaching old age, King Lear determines to divide his kingdom among his daughters.  But is a king still a king when he has given up all the trappings of royalty?  Gareth Hinds adapts one of Shakespeare’s most well-known tragedies.

Review

Gareth Hinds presents what seems to be a scholarly adaptation of what some consider Shakespeare’s best tragedy.  Complete with a preface about variations between the Quarto and Folio versions, a dramatis personae, and endnotes about the changes and excisions made, the work seems poised to save students everywhere from failing their Shakespeare exams.  But the seriousness of the text raises it above a study guide.  It’s clear that Hinds respects his source material and wants to present it in a way that’s both accessible and beautiful.  And he succeeds.

This adaptation does not have the rich colors of Hinds’s Romeo and Juliet, but it’s still in full color and Hinds makes some interesting stylistic choices sure to raise questions in the attentive reader.  The play begins in pastels but will encompass a variety of illustrations, including pages that are mostly white space and scenes shown as negatives.  Black-and-white drawings end the tale.  Each choice contributes a certain mood to the story, even if sometimes it seems like the message is too blatant.  “Bad stuff is happening here!” cry the negative drawings.

Some of the action becomes so cluttered that Hinds unfortunately has to provide lines to show the progression of the story. This, assuredly, is not the best layout option for a graphic novel; you want the scenes to flow without such obvious markers.  I’m not sure if we could argue that even these lines provide some sort of meaning to the story.  We’re all lost and confused like Lear?  We’re directionless without the king?  The world has gone crazy and what used to have meaning no longer does?  I guess we could stretch our interpretive powers, but it seems as if we shouldn’t have to.

Altogether, however, the book does a nice job illustrating the story and suggesting to readers the power the play can have.  Readers new to drama often need time to learn  how to stage the plays in their heads, how to hear the emotions, how to read the stage directions implicit in the dialogue.  The graphic novel brings this life.

3 starsKrysta 64

Romeo and Juliet by Gareth Hinds (A Graphic Novel Adaptation)

Shakespeare 2

romeo-and-juliet-hindsINFORMATION

Goodreads: Romeo and Juliet
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2013

SUMMARY

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.

Review

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.

4 starsKrysta 64

Maus I: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman

maus-iINFORMATION

Goodreads: Maus
Series:  Maus I
Source: Purchased
Published: 1986

SUMMARY

The son of a Holocaust survivor attempts to come to terms with his father’s history by writing a graphic novel.

Review

Though you may know Maus as that famous comic about the Holocaust, the story told focuses both on Art Spiegelman’s father’s experiences in Europe during WWII and on Art’s own experience of inheriting that legacy.  The work slides through time as it depicts Art interviewing his father Vladek about his past as well as Art navigating his difficult relationship with his father in the present.  His graphic novel is not really meant to memorialize the victims–and indeed Spiegelman seems to have a horror of sentimentalizing the Holocaust–so much as it is meant to allow Spiegelman to work through what it means to be living in the shadows of his father’s memories.

Art’s preoccupations reveal themselves quite clearly in the scene where Vladek’s second wife Mala makes Art a cup of coffee and begins to describe her own Holocaust experience.  Just as she finishes telling Art how her parents died, he jumps up, remembering that his mother’s old diaries might be in his father’s office.  Disconcerted, Mala asks where he is going.  She is trying to work through her trauma by telling her story, but Art is interested only in working through his own trauma, inherited from his parents.

The result is a complex interweaving of past and present as Spiegelman tells his father’s story from his courtship to the war to his parents’ eventually capture and deportation.  It does not sentimentalize the Holocaust nor does it try to speak for all the survivors or make meaning out of tragedy.  It’s the retelling of man’s experiences, what he knew at the time, and of his son’s attempt to make meaning out of those experiences decades later.  And it ever so subtly it reveals how the effects of the Holocaust reach out to cast shadows even now.

4 starsKrysta 64

American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar by Harvey Pekar, et al.

american-splendorINFORMATION

Goodreads: American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar
Series:  American Splendor
Source: Purchased
Published: 1986

SUMMARY

It’s the 1970s in Seattle and Harvey Pekar is working a menial job while selling jazz records on the side and trying to sell the comic books he’s writing.

Review

Presenting everyday moments to illustrate that anyone can be the star of a comic, that you don’t need to Superman to have a story, is an intriguing intellectual project.  Even if we accept that Harvey Pekar can never really represent everyone, that he represents a certain segment of the population, perhaps the working man or the stifled intellectual, it’s still new to write a comic about your experiences waiting in line at the grocery store.  But “new” and “intellectually interesting” do not always translate into an engaging read.

Some of the stories in this collection captured me more than others, but largely I did not care for the depiction of Pekar–angry, abrupt, cheap, and dishonest–and I hardly cared to hear about the random, mundane moments of his life.  They are so mundane that they could, in fact, happen to anyone and that’s what makes them boring.  Maybe I’d be interested in a friend recounting this tale, but I hardly care about the details of character-Pekar’s life.  He waited a long time in line at the store.  Fascinating.

Additionally, the comics often feel text-heavy, as if we don’t really need the illustrations. Sometimes Pekar is pictured just standing at the frame, talking.  For the whole comic.  Yes, we can decode his body language, but the images seem so secondary that I find it tempting to gloss over them and just read the story.  I generally prefer comics where the images and words really work together and comment on and subvert each other.  Of course the images and text have to be working together here, but nothing about the presentation really inspires me to read closely and discover how.

In the end, I understand what Pekar is doing.  I understand this was a new concept when it was first published, that the team of artists he employs each create character-Pekar in different ways, that Pekar really wants to highlight the heroism of the “ordinary” person.  But, as a reader, I just was not hooked.

3 starsKrysta 64

Classic Remarks: Graphic Novels

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

Tell us about your favorite classic graphic novel.

Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir  Persepolis recounts her life growing up before and after the Islamic Revolution in Iran.  In the introduction she notes that she “believes an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists” and so she tells the stories of the individuals who fought against oppression.  Her account is particularly powerful because told the through the eyes of a child, who does not yet understand.

The story opens memorably with the introduction of the veil.  At ten years old, Marjane has never had to wear the veil before, but the Islamic Revolution now makes it mandatory.  It also segregates her previously co-ed school and rewrites the textbooks.  Marjane struggles to understand why the veil is necessary since before it was a choice.  And she does not  hesitate to question the changing teachings of the textbooks, to the horror of her classmates and teacher.  As a child, she is dangerously outspoken and irrepressible.  She is saying what many adults are thinking, but cannot speak aloud.

The disconnect between youth and history continues throughout the story.  We see Marjane delight in the knowledge that her relatives have been imprisoned and tortured for political causes.  She romanticizes the struggles and imagines such information will make her cool among her peers.  Her understanding of what is happening is simultaneously clever and knowledgeable, and all too innocent.  This is truly history through the eyes of a child.

But throughout Satrapi celebrates the resilience of the people of Iran, highlighting their bravery and and their dedication to freedom.  She truly has given us a different perspective, a side of the story that often goes untold.  It’s a story worth listening to.

Bonus: I’m not sure it’s yet considered a classic, but Sean Tam’s wordless graphic novel The Arrival illustrates the strangeness and loneliness of arriving in a new land.

Krysta 64

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

march-1INFORMATION

Goodreads: March: Book One
Series:  March #1
Source: Library
Published: 2013

SUMMARY

Congressman John Lewis shares his life story, beginning in book one with his youth in Alabama and his activity with the Nashville Student Movement as they protested segregation through lunch counter sit-ins.

Review

March is a powerful book that tells the story of Congressman John Lewis’s life, beginning with his childhood in Alabama and continuing through his participation in the Nashville Student Movement.  No doubt many educators will find this a useful tool to discuss civil rights in the classroom, but general readers will also find themselves by turns saddened, shocked, and inspired.  The book truly makes history come alive, and reminds readers of just how tenuous civil rights can be.

Perhaps one of the more striking aspects of the book is Lewis’s willingness to engage with the nuances of the Civil Rights movement.  The story makes quite clear that, just because a law has been passed, that does not mean all citizens are treated equally.  Brown v. the Board of Education passed, and yet Lewis could not go downtown and be served lunch.  Nor could his white friends if they were with him.  And the local political leaders tried to walk the line by giving verbal support to the law while also maintaining stores had the right to serve whom they liked.

Lewis furthermore digs into the nuances of the responses given by the Black community.  While he and his friends attended training workshops on peaceful protests, were arrested for trying to integrate lunch counters, and refused to pay into the system by posting bail, some Black leaders suggested that simply being arrested was to make enough of a point–they should post bail and go.  Furthermore, some called for the dismissal of James Lawson from his grad school because he led lunch counter sit-ins.  Lewis saw it as a division between the older and the younger generations, and their approach towards reaching equality.  History is more complicated and less linear than the textbooks sometimes suggest.

So whether you’re hoping to learn more about the Civil Rights movement or simply looking for a powerful and moving read, you’re sure to find something in March.  It’s just as eye-opening as I expect Lewis hoped it would be.

5 starsKrysta 64

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

persepolisINFORMATION

Goodreads: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
Series:  Persepolis #1
Source: Library
Published: 2000

SUMMARY

Marjane Satrapi chronicles her life in Iran during the Iranian Revolution, from the age of six to the age of fourteen.  The daughter of Marxists, she speaks out loudly against oppression and finds small ways to show her rebellion.  Translated by Mattias Ripa.

Review

Persepolis is a powerful book that tells the story of the Iranian Revolution through the eyes of a child.  Marjane Satrapi notes in the introduction that she “believes an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists” and so she tells the stories of those who fought for freedom and those who lost their lives for it.  The result is a book that will no doubt be eye-opening to many.

As the daughter of Marxists and the great-granddaughter of a previous emperor, Satrapi has a unique viewpoint and her book is full of demonstrations, meetings with political prisoners and activists, and small acts of rebellion.  She notes how overnight all the rules changed in a “cultural revolution” and how they had difficulty accepting things like the need to wear a head covering at all times, since they had never done so before.  Even as a child she feels the necessity of freedom and finds small ways to rebel through her clothing choices or her questioning of her school’s teachings.  Her rebellion is particularly admirable because she knows exactly what happens to enemies of the state.  She has heard stories of torture and rape.

However, Satrapi still manages to find joy in life and she often brings a sense of humor to the most dire of situations.  Even when being stopped on the street for her attire, she can crack a joke.  Her resilience and her bravery are inspiring, and her story is sure to move you.

5 starsKrysta 64