Classic Comics: Poe, Wilde, and Bronte

Classics Illustrated: The Raven and Other Poems by Edgar Allan Poe

Classics Illustrated: The Raven cover
Classics Illustrated: The Raven
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Illustrated by Gahan Wilson
Papercutz, $9.95 US

Gahan Wilson’s tormented art seems like it would be an excellent choice for the emotionally haunting poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, but I was surprised to see how it was handled.

The shading shown on the cover is missing from the book’s interior. Instead, Wilson’s art is flatter, with less line weight variation. The most astounding element is the coloring, done in pastel yellow, pink, and blue. The result is Easter-eggy cute. I don’t associate cuddly with Poe, but that’s the feeling I’m left with here. It’s something like a child’s first melancholic reader. (There’s no credit given for the coloring.)

Normally, I like illustrated text for reading poetry, because the art, if well-chosen, adds an additional layer of meaning and interpretation. The pacing of the first poem, “The Raven”, is off, though, with the pictures showing a man reading and then a man opening a door. That’s two too-literal images for the first stanza, and then the next six are illustrated only by a picture of a raven. The next two, covering eight more stanzas, are the man staring at the raven, and then staring at a picture of a girl. And again, instead of black gloom, we get pastel pink chair and curtains. I guess it’s reassuring to the young, but for me, it was totally the wrong mood, almost funny.

With “Annabel Lee”, I was distracted by the silly seashell motif drawn decorating her tomb. “Lines on Ale” is a trifle, out of keeping with what one usually thinks of Poe. It’s shoved in with the others, when more spacing of presentation would aid in switching the mood. That’s true of many of the pages, where the text runs right into the image without enough white space to frame it.

Other poems included are “The City in the Sea”, “The Sleeper”, “The Conqueror Worm”, “The Haunted Palace”, “Alone”, and “Eldorado”, the lone dissenter from the color scheme I find so troubling. That one is done in bright red and gold, happy colors that had me reaching the end of the poem thinking “that’s it? What a letdown. Shouldn’t there be another 12 stanzas?” (There’s only four short ones.)

Graphic Classics: Oscar Wilde

Graphic Classics: Oscar Wilde cover
Graphic Classics: Oscar Wilde
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Graphic Classics, $11.95 US

I know of Oscar Wilde, of course, but I know more about his life than I do his work. I think the only thing I’ve read of his is The Importance of Being Earnest (not included here). I was eager to see this volume because it includes work by Molly Kiely, a favorite of mine who usually draws porn. She illustrates Salome (adapted by series editor Tom Pomplun), which concludes the book. Before that, there’s

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray, adapted by Alex Burrows, illustrated by Lisa K. Weber
  • The Canterville Ghost, adapted by Antonella Caputo, illustrated by Nick Miller
  • Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, adapted by Rich Rainey, illustrated by Stan Shaw

All those creators I was also unfamiliar with, although I greatly appreciated finding out about Lisa K. Weber, who mainly does work for young people (such as Cricket magazine). I like her soft pencil work and characters driven by expressive eyes. She handles Dorian Gray admirably. I knew about the device of the picture, but I had no idea of the many other relationships and actions that drive the story.

Although these black-and-white adaptations, by nature truncated to fit more than one in this space, can be abrupt in mood changes, Weber does an excellent job drawing the characters aging in various ways, either visually/physically, or in attitude as they harden (Gray). It’s an affecting, attractive portrayal of corruption.

The Canterville Ghost uses its fantasy elements to satirize rude, rich Americans of the period, their fondness for branded and bottled preparations, and their trampling of great British traditions, including the family haunt. Given the many cultural references, notes would have been a help, but it’s funny enough without them. The art is posed and caricatured; it reminded me of something you might see in Mad magazine. Overall, it’s an amusing story that ends up being quite touching, and I’m glad it’s being retold.

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime is even more exaggerated in its art style, to the extent that I found it hard to follow as a comic. The material is true to Wilde, making fun of how credulous aristocrats could be and following a silly premise to ludicrous conclusions.

Finally, Salome. The art was lovely, as I expected, but I found the text ponderous. I would have preferred more editing to lighten the content and reduce the amount of lines. It’s one thing to be true to the text, but a comic requires a different balance of words and art, so ultimately, I found this unsuccessful. Still, the volume overall has more enjoyment than not, and it’s an entertaining way to learn more about some of Oscar Wilde’s classics.

Jane Eyre: The Graphic Novel

Jane Eyre: The Graphic Novel cover
Jane Eyre: The Graphic Novel
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By Charlotte Bronte
Adapted by Amy Corzine
Art by John M. Burns
Classical Comics, $16.95 US

Classical Comics takes an interesting approach to its versions of the classics — they release the same art with varying texts. This book, for example, is available in a Quick Text edition, with modern English edited down, or an unabridged Original Text edition. (In fact, there are four versions, since each set was originally done in British English and then redone, localized, for Americans.)

The books are handsome and substantial, with slick, heavy paper to show off the color art. The painted style suits the “classic” nature of the works. Comparing the two versions, it’s interesting to see how they handle the length differences, since the Quick Text is so much shorter than the Original. I expected the panels to look emptier without the longer captions and dialogue, but the transition is handled well. Most readers are going to buy only one or the other, anyway.

This is an attractive way to read what can be an intimidating novel. Background material covers the author’s life, tells a little bit about how this graphic novel was created, and points to teachers’ resources. That academic audience seems most likely for this work, as a way to interest reluctant students.

(Complimentary copies for this review were provided by the publishers.)

8 Responses to “Classic Comics: Poe, Wilde, and Bronte”

  1. Liz Says:

    Sometimes your posts are so incredibly timely for me! I am in a Poe Reading Group on Wednesdays and I’m taking an Oscar Wilde class next semester. I’m going to buy both of those. Thanks!

  2. Petra Saunders Says:

    Many thanks for these, I’ll be buying both the Wilde and the Poe too. If I can get them over here in the UK. Classics Illustrated are being republished over here, the website says the artwork has been re-coloured, that should help with Poe. But they don’t have this title on the list for this year. So far I’ve had War of the Worlds, Robin Hood, Les Miserables and Romeo and Juliet. Absolutely fantasic for reluctant readers and my SEN workgroups at school. I’ll email now to see if they are supplying this one, otherwise may have to import it!
    The Oscar Wilde book ia a must have.I can get that here via Amazon.
    Thanks again.

  3. Johanna Says:

    I think a different company is doing CI in the UK, not Papercutz (which handles them here). So their reprint choices may be different. Glad you liked the reviews!

  4. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » April 20, 2009: Beauty-schooled dropout Says:

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  5. john Says:

    Hi Johanna,

    Thanks for these reviews, the Poe one in particular sums up my frustrations with adaptations pretty well really… i.e: the match of art and story. Another problematic area for adaptations is when the writer forgets the maxim “show don’t tell” and there are chunks of expostions explaining a picture which shouldn’t need explaining.

    If you are interested in more Oscar Wilde, I’d recommend seeking out The ‘Oscar Wilde’s Fairy Tales’ series from NBM, they’re illustrated by P Craig Russell, and they’re gorgeous.

    As far as other classics adaptations I’ve enjoyed, look out for ‘Kidnapped’ by Alan Grant and Cam Kennedy, and there is my personal favourite, the First Comics’ Classics Illustrated ‘Tom Sawyer’ illustrated by Mike Ploog.

  6. Johanna Says:

    I think I’ve seen one or two of those Fairy Tale books, thanks for the reminder.

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