Monday, April 13, 2009

Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Graffex Comic Adaptations - A Review

We are very grateful to The Salariya Book Company for sending us copies of these comic books.


Wuthering Heights (Graffex)
(Paperback)
by Jim Pipe (Adapter), Nick Spender (Illustrator)

  • Paperback: 48 pages
  • Publisher: Book House (1 April 2009)
  • ISBN-10: 1906370133
  • ISBN-13: 978-1906370138
Jane Eyre (Graffex) (Paperback)
by Fiona MacDonald (Adapter), Penko Gelev (Illustrator)
  • Paperback: 48 pages
  • Publisher: Book House (1 May 2009)
  • ISBN-10: 1906370117
  • ISBN-13: 978-1906370114
Comic adaptations of Brontë novels have never ceased to be published in the last decades, normally linked to some sort of educational purpose. As a way to introduce children to the pleasures of reading, as a sort of magical key to make classical literature appealing to teenagers. Usually following the local curriculum guidelines. The quality of the adaptations is usually proportional to the ambitions and original purposes of the enterprise. As a general rule, the more focused on just being a complement to the general syllabus, the more mediocre the results. More than just be faithful or not to the text, a successful adaptation has to be able to offer an original view, a raison d'être, a coherent approach to, and interpretation of, the original novel.

We have recently seen very ambitious approaches to Jane Eyre (the Burns & Corzine Classical Comics adaptation) and other very modest in ambition and results (Paper Movie Books). Concerning Wuthering Heights, Classical Comics is preparing its own adaptation, a new French adaptation by Édith & Yann has just been published in France(1). Classics Illustrated is preparing UK reissues of the original 1947 Jane Eyre(2) and the 1960 Wuthering Heights for this summer. The two new proposals discussed here are somehow in between of these two poles. They constitute honest and original adaptations but their scope and target(3) is clearly more reduced than the Classical Comics approach.

Each comic in this collection is introduced by a quotation from the original work on a full two-page spread trying to capture the soul of the approach. For Wuthering Heights Jim Pipe uses the well-known "You said I kill you -haunt me then" whereas Fiona Macdonald recovers the poignant soliloquy when Jane Eyre is wandering around the moors after running away from Thornfield Hall: "Shall I be an outcast again this night?". The adaptation is divided into minichapters two-pages long with a heading summarising the action which takes place. The story advances basically through simple explanations and basic drawings of the characters' psychologies accompanying each of the (sometimes much too small) panels. Very little original text is preserved in the speech bubbles whose intention is not to explain the action but to punctuate several particular moments and feelings. Footnotes defining vocabulary are used with moderation.

Wuthering Heights is retold by Jim Pipe and illustrated by Nick Spender. Emily Brontë's novel certainly isn't the easiest of books to be reduced into a 41-page comic adaptation (which portrays both generations even) and the result is not altogether convincing. We wonder if a reader unfamiliar with the novel, as the potential public target are, will be able to understand not only the motivations behind the characters' behaviour but some of the twists and turns of the action. Nick Spender works with vivid colours, bright shapes and a highly contrasted inking. Generally focused on faces and expressions, backgrounds and settings are just barely sketched. In a novel which integrates so deeply the landscape (the moors) into its own characters this is a drawback that weighs on the work. The comic is completed with some information about Emily Brontë, a background of the book with some trivia and interesting details, a timeline of Emily Brontë which places Emily's life events into her historical and social context and an incomplete and highly arbitrary commentary of other adaptations of Wuthering Heights.

Jane Eyre is retold by Fiona Macdonald and illustrated by Penko Gelev. This is, in our opinion, a more satisfying adaptation. Fiona Macdonald makes a good work, with the obvious limitations of the enterprise, retelling Charlotte Brontë's narrative. More fragments of the original wording are retained and this contributes to the coherence of the approach. Penko Gelev's palette is quite restrained: greys and muted colours which added to a very idiosyncratic and peculiar style weave a very particular, and charming, atmosphere. The extra contents in this case are a biography of Charlotte Brontë(4), a timeline with the main British Women's Education and Legal Rights events in the whole 19th century, a list with the other novels by Charlotte Brontë and some contemporary reactions to the first edition of the novel. Finally, another selection (again arbitrary and incomplete) of other Jane Eyre adaptations.

Notes:
(1) Les Hauts de Hurlevent d'Emily Brontë, Volume 1; Artwork by Édith, Adaptation by Yann, Éditions Delcourt, Collection: Ex-Libris, April 2009, ISBN: 978-2756013800
.
(3) We don't know yet which version: Classics Illustrated, No 39, Illustrated by Harley M. Griffiths, 1947 or Classics Illustrated No 39, Illustrated by H.J. Kihl, 1962.
(3) Which is Key Stage 2/3 (UK) or Grades 5-8 (US) more or less. We wonder if with several obvious modifications these comics could not be also addressed to students learning English as a foreign language.
(4) With a couple of drawbacks. Charlotte Brontë's cause of death is given as a fact to have been due to typhus and no mention is made of the more 'popular' hyperemesis gravidarum hypothesis. And Branwell's death is placed in 1849 after Anne's and Emily's deaths. This is wrong. Branwell was the first one to die in 1848.

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Comments :

1 Comment
Esme Collins said...
on  

at 48 pages the new books are pretty much the same length as Classics Illustrated.....but without use of the original language.
But as with all adaptations, if it leads to someone reading the novel, all well and good.

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