Graphic novels, these literary, comic-book-style stories, have become increasingly mainstream since the ’80s–enough that even a square like me has read Watchmen and the Sandman series. They are creative and thought-provoking and wonderful.
But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. There is a growing trend in the graphic novel world that I’m not sure what to make of: adapting pre-written novels into graphic novel format.
A few months ago, I was browsing Barnes & Noble and saw a graphic novel version of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. Since Coraline looked a little older than her book self, I guessed it was produced as a way to bring the older Sandman crowd in to check out some of Neil’s other work. I finished it in a sitting and went on my way.
Not too long after that, my mother came home from the library with another graphic novel in her hand.
“I saw this and remembered you’d read it,” she said. “I don’t think you’ve seen this version, though.”
I had read the book, all right.
It was Neverwhere, again by Neil Gaiman, and one of my favorites. There were a few elements in the graphic novel that didn’t synch up with what I’d imagined—Door’s face was tattooed, and the artist took the description of the Marquis de Carabas’ complexion as “very black” literally, making him a nonhuman character rather than a dark black man—but I actually found myself enjoying some of these stylistic surprises.
I thought I was wise to what was going on at this point. Neil Gaiman is a very prominent figure in the comics world, so I assumed he was adapting his novels one by one. Then, last week, I was stunned to find a graphic novel for Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. This is my Favorite Novel of All Time. This was getting personal.
Graphic novel versions of regular novels make me a little wary–I get the same feeling as when a beloved book is coming out as a movie.
I’m not sure whether to trust another person’s imagination with characters I love.
Apparently, companies like Marvel have been adapting classics to graphic novels for the last few years. The idea seems to be to make great stories more accessible to people who are intimidated by the language of Austen or Shakespeare, while also presenting a fresh take for those who loved the original. I had to laugh when I saw Pride and Prejudice styled like a glossy magazine.
But I find myself a little torn. Part of me is excited to see artists and writers collaborating to share stories. The adaptations I’ve read have been fun, thoughtfully drawn, and reasonably faithful representations.
On the other hand, Pride and Prejudice isn’t Seventeen magazine. One of the reasons I loved Something Wicked This Way Comes so much is the poetry of the language. You have more imaginative freedom reading a graphic novel than watching a movie, but there’s definitely an element you give up as well.
When you strip out all text except dialogue and minimal narration, you lose the chance to see how someone made the story work.