Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wuthering Heights. The Graphic Novel. A Review

Our thanks to Classical Comics for sending us a review copy of this book.
Wuthering Heights. The Graphic Novel
Emily Brontë
Script Adaptation: Seán M. Wilson
Artwork: John M. Burns
Lettering: Jim Campbell
Format: 160 pages full colour, sewn paperback
Original Text Version
ISBN: 978-1-906332-87-7
Quick Text Version
ISBN: 978-1-906332-88-4
In the last years on BrontëBlog we have reviewed many Wuthering Heights adaptations, revisitations, remakes, prequels or sequels. And some children adaptations with or without illustrations too. But when we address the Classical Comics' adaptation we feel as if we were travelling in quite a different country. Not because we have here a new, challenging, exciting new approach to Emily Brontë's territory full of unexplored ideas or controversial ones. No, this is not the equivalent of the Andrea Arnold's treatment of the story of Heathcliff and Catherine(1) but a very canonical, very faithful but, nonetheless, very interesting adaptation.

The effort is quite similar to the Jane Eyre adaptation that Classical Comics published some years ago. When we reviewed that book we said about the main aim of these books:
What Classical Comics is trying to do is not only entice young readers to read, giving them a glimpse of the classics, but trying to do all that with quality and high standards in the art department as well as in the scripts. All their releases appear at least in two versions: Original Text, where the original novel or play is abridged but most of the times quoted almost verbatim and a Quick Text version which might be more controversial in its editorial decisions
These high standards are maintained in this edition and Wuthering Heights. The Graphic Novel is by far the more ambitious comic approach to the novel and arguably the most engaging in the last few years. Not because of its classical (no pun intended) approach but because it's a consistent, occasionally impersonal but mostly successful proposal.

As in others Classical Comics publications, a case in point is Jane Eyre, the adaptation respects the original chaptering of the text and illustrates sometimes verbatim the story and dialogues of the book. The original text version respects much of Emily Brontë's prose and both the hardcore fans and the occasional reader will be able to enjoy it through the careful and respectful work of Seán M. Wilson. The adaptation manages to combine the double narration of the original effectively without incurring in a confusion of voices as many other adaptations regrettably do(2)

Apart from recognising the merit of Seán M. Wilson's work, it's nevertheless a matter of justice to notice that what makes this adaptation memorable is the extraordinary work of John M. Burns. Talking about John M. Burns is talking about living history of the British comic industry. He has been working since the sixties and most notably he was the illustrator of the previous Jane Eyre adaptation which we praised as:
His artwork is beautiful, clear and always illustrative. His choice of colours and general style evoke even a period-look not at all unrelated to the traditional kind of drawing and colouring used by Mr Burns as opposed to other more modern techniques
Many of the adjectives can be used again. John M. Burns's vivid, highly-detailed illustrations (illustrate is a verb that doesn't make justice to his work, he doesn't illustrate, he recreates) helped by the concise, true-to-the-novel adaptation by Seán M. Wilson, make the story leap from the page. His works excels in many points but his vision of the death of Linton with an almost cinematographical dolly-up shot towards Edgar, ending in a extreme close up of his eyes is at the same time terrifying, moving and disturbing. The meticulous choosing of the palette of colours, the careful creation of the psychological profiles of characters (Catherine vs Cathy are a perfect example) shows the impressive work of John M. Burns(3).

As usual with the Classical Comics publications the book is completed with a short biography of Emily Brontë, a Brontë family tree and a mini making-off of the creation of a comic page from the original pencil drawing up until the final result, showing the completely analogic techniques of Mr Burns.

We are quite confident that the readers of Classical Comics' graphical novel will be haunted anew by Wuthering Heights.

Notes:
(1) Which in a way (at least in its racial subtext) was already present in a 2006 comic adaptation of Wuthering Heights (this one, original and edgy) by Siku.
(2) The mechanism chosen is to give Lockwood the primacy of first narrator and introducing Nelly's voice through talking heads at the beginning of many of her narrations. The recurse is effective but a bit tiresome and repetitive when the internal logic of the narrative makes it prescindible.
(3) It's very curious and highly instructive to compare the 2011 approach to Emily Brontë's novel to the 1963-64 serialised one published in the Diana magazine. Not only showing the evolution in style and technique but also comparing the fast-paced, compressive narrative of a serial publication with the present one. Some of the pages can be seen here.

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