Monday, December 8, 2008

A Christmas Carol, comixized


Classical Comics is creating a collection of classic novels turned into graphic novels. This idea isn't new of course and has generally been done rather lousily. It was with a mix of trepidation and anticipation that I read this book and overall I was quite happy with it, starting with the cover: shiny black lines on a matte black background: very cool.

Christmas Carol comes in two formats, both with identical pictures, Original Text and Quick Text. The version I read was Original Text (it's the one with the cool cover and the one they sent me). The Big O (if you don't know me already from Thmusings, he's my five-year-old son) and I are rereading the original novel in a copiously illustrated version; I had considered reading this instead, but it hadn't arrived by the time I told him we'd start reading.

Anyway, reading both simultaneously means I am hyperaware of the alterations in the text. Even though this is "Original Text", it obviously won't be identical. All the tags are gone, for instance. In fact, it wasn't until Marley's ghost appeared that I remembered something from the opening paragraphs that had been cut.

What I'm getting at is that the excisions are made so smoothly that if you weren't reading the original simultaneously, you would likely never know the difference.

(I can't say the same for the Quick Text, but based on the sample panels in the back of the book, I think it's been simplified into awkwardness.)

My main beef with the book is the art. The art is of high quality, make no mistake, but (and here comes the snob in me) it's just so typical. It looks like anything you might see from a major superhero publisher. It's "dynamic" but boring. The colors and inking look straight off the shelf. And I think the book deserves more.

Jacob Marley doesn't like it when you call him a humbug.

Given the (single ) sample panels from other Classical Comics books shown in the backpages, I think Jane Eyre and Frankenstein fared much better in the art department while Henry V and Macbeth got the shaft. And one last word on the art: sometimes is been totally pixelated and looks like crap. Not often, but sometimes. What's up with that?

(Incidentally, Shakespeare, in addition to Original Text and Quick Text, comes in Plain Text --- as long as Original, but modernized. The two panels I have to judge on suggest above average competence in the modernization, but, naturally, less poetic than the original. It also reminded me how bleeding much I hate Henry V.)

So! The adaptation is borderline excellent --- one of the finest novel adaptations into comic form I've ever read. Not nearly as good as the (as yet) untouchable City of Glass, but far above every other example I can think of at the moment.

Speaking as a teacher, I would love to have some class sets of a title or two from Classical Comics. It would be an interesting experiment to teach, say, Great Expectation as a comic. Most of the brainy stuff can be done with the Original Text version and the chance to look at the artistic nuts-N-bolts of the comic form would be mahvelous.

Knowing I might think that, Classical Comics offers teachers' guides for five of their titles. When I list all their currently available titles, I'll star those ones.

Speaking of teaching, these books have some handy essays and other miscellany tucked away in the back to supplement a teaching of the novel. A Christmas Carol comes with the following: a brief Dickens bio, a brief Dickens geneology, a Dickens-themed timeline, a primer on the Vicotrian era, an essay on Christmas in the Victorian era and a making-of for the comic (as well as ads for the books I've been mentioning).

All in all, a good read and, potentially, a nice tool. I'ld love to taste others and see if the quality remains high.

    Henry V*
    Jane Eyre*
    A Christmas Carol
    Great Expectations*
    The Tempest
    Romeo And Juliet
    The Canterville Ghost
    Richard III


Spencer Ellsworth said...

I read the Edgar Allen Poe one, which worked pretty well.

The end.

No, really.

Th. said...


They haven't done a Poe. I think you're thinking of Classics Illustrated. I had that same one. As well as several others from that set.

I need to find those to do a comparison, but I'm pretty certain that this one is at least better (than most in the other series) in the sticks-to-the-original sense and also better than most in the good-t-read sense. Rick Geary's Wuthering Heights for instance merely confused me.