This graphic novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s story, Kindred, was extremely well done. Butler’s original novel, published in 1979, was a ground breaking story that liberally dipped into historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy within a time traveling framework. The author herself called the story “a kind of grim fantasy”, and this adaptation shows just that.
The story begins in 1976 California, when a newly married black woman named Dana is unexpectedly sucked back into antebellum Maryland in the early 1800’s. A young white boy is drowning in a nearby river and she wades in to save him, although his parents are strangely aggressive towards her afterwards. When the father levels a rifle at her, she is transported back to modern day. Only gone a minute in her time, she is justifiably confused as to what just happened.
Dana is soon sucked back again, but at a different year in the past, as she meets the boy again during a time he is in danger. She gets to know Rufus and truly discovers the location and time period she is in. It is during this second journey that she realizes she is in extreme danger, for she will be perceived as an escaped slave due to her color. When she is sent back to her home after being threatened with death, she is able to ascertain that she is sent to the past when Rufus is in danger, and she goes back home when she is threatened with death. On her third journey her husband Kevin grabs hold of her, and he too goes back in time, where they meet Rufus again as a young man. Kevin’s experiences as a white man in the past are much different than hers, and the gulf between the two is shown in stark contrast.
Eventually we discover the tether between Rufus and Dana- he is a distant ancestor of hers and she needs to ensure his survival if she and future family members are to exist. And this is where she needs to make a soul-corroding choice, in regards to a young slave woman Alice, whom Rufus is enamored with and who will be her many times great grandmother. This, and a myriad of other choices she needs to make, shows how slavery chipped away at both blacks and whites, and Dana comments “I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery”. This was a heartbreaking story, and through the juxtaposition of Dana’s experiences in two different centuries, this fantasy novel actually gives a highly realistic view of the slavery era.
Damian Duffy has adapted Butler’s classic story into a tense narrative, with chapter breaks that tie into Dana’s journeys to the past. The experiences Dana and Kevin have, and the loss of humanity we witness, are deftly portrayed. The dialogue heavy narrative is a perfect vehicle to be shown as a graphic novel, and Duffy’s vision of Butler’s work is spot on. An introduction by fellow author Nnedi Okorafor, and some concluding information about Butler and her other works, was a good way to bookend the story.
The illustrator, John Jennings, brings the story into focus with his evocative illustrations. His sketchy art is reminiscent of The Dark-Thirty, a children’s supernatural short story collection about the slavery era, drawn by Brian Pinkney. Jenning’s work truly is graphic and the depictions of the extreme violence will make you cringe, but it is a crucial part of the narrative, and it should make you cry out for all the injustices inflicted upon the innocent. An interesting choice was showing modern day in sepia tones, while the past was a full array of colors. Dana and her husband lived a rather mundane life, so her experiences in the past became more real and vivid to her.
This was my first introduction to Kindred, as I have not had the pleasure of reading the novel, but instead of replacing the first, it has just increased my interest in the story. While a wonderful adaptation, I hope to someday read the richly imagined original.