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Graphic Novel Adaptation

What Unites Us: The Graphic Novel

Journalist Dan Rather wrote What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism in 2017. This is the graphic novel adaptation of that book, which is a series of essays. The graphic novel is broken up into chapters, each talking about a specific topic on American patriotism. The first chapter defines patriotism and it is that definition that guides us through the rest of the book. Through stories both personal and historically significant, Rather illustrates how patriotism has evolved since he was a child. As patriotism encompasses many forms, so too does Rather talk about patriotism through the lenses of inclusion, exploration, and more.

The illustrations were lovely. Though they were minimalistic, to let the writing take center stage, they were still carefully crafted. Each line has purpose, with no frills or fuss. Red, white, and blue are the only colors used. Often, a whole panel will be red or blue, though some combine the two. For example: red can be the entire foreground and blue the background. Very occasionally the two will mix into what looks like a watercolor bloom.

Rather himself was the main “character,” who served as the narrator for the book. He “speaks” his essays to us, which gave it a nice personal touch, as if you were having a conversation with him. He mentions various public and historical figures, all of whom are drawn true to life.

While overall the book was thought-provoking, and I appreciated that he did not sugar coat yet remained optimistic… it’s a white man’s optimistic view of American patriotism. I would like to see, and will be seeking out, graphic novels which speak to women and BIPOC’s points of view on America then and now, and what we can do to make this country better for everyone. This graphic novel was published in a series called World Citizen Comics, more of which I’ll check out.

Happy Fourth of July for our American readers!

– Kathleen

Rather, Dan, Elliot Kirschner, and Tim Foley. What Unites Us: The Graphic Novel. 2021.

The Great Gatsby: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

K. Woodman-Maynard presents a graphic novel adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In the 1920’s, a young man named Nick Carraway leaves his home in the Midwest for New York City. There, between shifts working in bonds, Nick befriends his neighbor, Jay Gatsby. He’s fabulously wealthy, and mysterious too. He’s hoping to reignite his relationship with an old flame: Nick’s cousin Daisy. Only problem is, Daisy is married to polo athlete Tom, who has a flame of his own on the side. Nick, as both an active and unwilling participant to both affairs (including his own with golfer Jordan Baker), serves as our narrator during this ill-fated summer.
 
Gatsby is one of the few books that I was forced to read for school that I go back to of my own volition. The exposition and dialogue seemed lifted straight from the book to me, and this was mostly true. Woodman-Maynard explains in an author’s note at the end of the book that some wording was changed to either make more sense within the context of the graphic novel, or to make more sense to modern audiences. The text placement was odd at times. It tried to sit in the environments, and sometimes does to great effect, but at other times it’s just confusing to figure out where to read next.
 
Watercolor illustrations evoking magazine advertisements from the decade make up the art for this book. It is, for the most part, extraordinarily effective. The reader is fully immersed in the empty, meaningless decadence of the Roaring ’20s. The colors were bright, and the palette varied from page to page. Often, one sequence or a few pages would be in one monochromatic palette, and the next few would be in a different palette: for example, blue and yellow to pink and purple. This was effective at underscoring different moods at differing points of the story. There are full pages signifying chapter breaks, and these are among the best illustrations in the book.
 
Visual metaphors add an element of playfulness to the book as well. The first time Nick meets Daisy and Jordan, they are depicted as literally floating down to the couches where they’re resting. It seemed to me that the qualities of the writing were emphasized more than anything else. Some things, such as the green light or J.T. Eckleberg’s billboard, seemed oddly not emphasized.
 
Overall, this was a lovely adaptation of “The Great Gatsby.” The illustrations were perfectly suited for the times the story takes place in. Some of the text placement, and missing emphasis on important story elements, were confusing or off-putting for me. For high school students, this is a perfectly suitable first introduction.
 
– Kathleen
 
Woodman-Maynard, K. The Great Gatsby: A Graphic Novel Adaptation. 2021.

Batman: Nightwalker (The Graphic Novel)

Orphan Bruce Wayne is freshly 18 and freshly come into the trust fund he inherited from his parents. He gets in trouble his first night by trying to chase down a member of the notorious Nightwalkers gang. They’ve been targeting rich citizens of Gotham and stealing their money to give to the poor. His brief moment of vigilantism lands Bruce in big trouble: a period of probation working as a janitor in Arkham Asylum. Madeline Wallace, a girl who’s been arrested and committed for being in the Nightwalkers, draws Bruce’s attention. They begin a cautious and barbed relationship as Bruce tries to figure out who exactly they are and how to stop them. Madeline may be his only lead, but she’s reluctant to talk. Who is she, really? Whose side is she really on?

This is another adaptation of a “DC Icons” YA novel, this time originally by Marie Lu. Unlike with Wonder Woman, it feels like we hardly get to see Bruce Wayne before he became Batman, so this felt like a nice change of pace. We see the same determination, smarts, and inquisitiveness that led him to become the World’s Greatest Detective, but he’s not there yet. It shows readers that all heroes, even those without special powers, start somewhere!

However, I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief because even as an 18-year-old, Bruce still seemed overpowered. He was performing acrobatic stunts that I would assume Batman could do, but not Bruce at 18. He kept a relatively cool head in high-charged situations, which as we all know is hard for teenagers to do. I wonder if Bruce had maybe started training to become a vigilante before the events of this novel. If there was mention of Bruce training at martial arts and detective work in the original novel, it was lost in translation.

As is ever my nitpick with YA novels, there is another (to me) forced romance in this one. It didn’t even seem like a romance to me, but other characters insisted it was – what? There was very little introspective inner dialogue from Bruce that wasn’t directly related to the Nightwalkers mystery. I felt blindsided and confused by it and don’t feel it served the story at all. Maybe it was fleshed out more in the original novel, but if this was all they were going to do with it in the graphic novel, it would have been better to cut it out altogether.

To make up for the somewhat unbelievable story, the art was superb. Classic Batman colors are used to maximum effect: blue-gray overall with bright yellow highlights. It would have been very easy to overdo the yellow, but it was used carefully and sparsely, to ensure maximum emotional or action-packed impact. The backgrounds and landscapes are rendered somewhat realistically, while the figures have overly sharp and angular features to suggest the hardness Gotham has beaten into them.

While I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief for a few aspects of this story, this is still a good old-fashioned Batman mystery set before Bruce Wayne as Batman exists. The sharp art elevates this graphic novel adaptation.

– Kathleen

Lu, Marie, Stuart Moore, and Chris Wildgoose. Batman: Nightwalker (The Graphic Novel). 2019.

Wonder Woman: Warbringer (The Graphic Novel)

Before she was Wonder Woman, Diana grew up on Themyscira. It isn’t always easy being the youngest of an entire island full of warrior women. They were reborn as Amazons because they died nobly, with a goddess’ prayer on their lips – every single one of them except for Diana. Some call her Pyxis (clay pot), some say she’s made of mud. Diana is determined to prove her right to be among them during an annual race across the island. Along her route, Diana witnesses a shipwreck and rescues a girl about her age from the wreckage. Her name is Alia, and with her coming strange and terrible things start happening on the island. The girls discover Alia is a descendant of Helen of Troy, whose blood was cursed to make her a Warbringer: a harbinger of death and destruction. Diana removes Alia from the island to try and find a way to remove the curse. If it fails, Alia asks Diana to kill her instead, before she can start another World War. Killing another is against the Amazon code. Can Diana remove Alia’s curse, or will she be forced to do the unthinkable?

This is a graphic novel adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s YA novel (the first in the “DC Icons” series) that came out in 2017. At the heart of the story is the moral dilemma that Diana faces: is it better to spare one life yet potentially cause countless other deaths, or better to take one life to spare countless other lives?

I was appreciative of the Amazon’s origin here, as it was written first in George Perez’ run. Myths and deities other than Grecian are included as a result, though the focus is on Grecian myths primarily.

It being a YA novel, there was a romance between Diana and another character that to me seemed forced. There are representations of people of color – Alia herself is African American, which contributes to the story in multiple ways – and LGBTQ+ characters. Wonder Woman’s character is tolerant and accepting of all kinds of people, so I was thrilled to see many types of representation here – where it’s right at home!

Differing hues of sea blues and greens dominate the book. Other colors such as red and yellow are used as highlights. Decisive and precise lines accentuate the characters’ strength and determination. Though there is a lot going on sometimes, especially in the action scenes, the panels are never cluttered.

This is an impressive adaptation of the best-selling YA novel. The dilemma young Diana, and her diverse companions, face compels readers to keep going until the very end.

– Kathleen

Bardugo, Leigh, Louise Simonson, and Kit Seaton. Wonder Woman: Warbringer (The Graphic Novel). 2020.

The Golden Compass: The Graphic Novel

Lyra Belacqua is a 12-year-old girl who lives at Jordan College in Oxford along with her dæmon Pantalaimon. They are under the guardianship of the Master of the College, but Lyra longs for her explorer Uncle Asriel to come back so she can explore the North with him. She discovers that he is researching a phenomena called Dust, and wants to help, but he will not take her along. A friend of her uncle’s, a woman named Mrs. Coulter, offers to take Lyra in and not only teach her how to be a lady, but all the skills she needs to explore the North as well. The night before Lyra leaves with Mrs. Coulter, the Master gives Lyra an alethiometer: a device that can tell the truth, if Lyra learns how to read it. Using the alethiometer and her own wits, Lyra learns that Mrs. Coulter is head of the General Oblation Board, or “Gobblers,” which is a project secretly funded by the Church that kidnaps children and experiments on the connection between them and their dæmons. Lyra escapes and what follows is an extraordinary tale involving the frozen North, a camp full of kidnapped children, and a Texan aeronaut and his armored polar bear friend.

I must admit once more that I’ve never read the original novel on which this graphic novel is based. I was completely spell-bound from start to finish, and now am curious as to how this graphic novel holds up to the original.

One element I know holds true from the novel to the graphic novel is the portrayal of religion. In this world, the church has control of the world. Any perceived heresy is condemned and some truths are repressed. The act of the Master giving Lyra the alethiometer could be seen as a heretical one.  Unlike the 2007 movie, the graphic novel does not shy away from these elements of the original novel, instead showing the readers and Lyra how sometimes authority (no matter the kind) isn’t always correct, and that sometimes one must find out the truth for themselves.

Clément Oubrerie’s illustrations are fantastic. Playing off the nature of the story, the colors are murky and brown-tinged, hard to see through, even at the brighter parts. Not to say that the art is poor or hard to understand; that’s not it at all. It’s as if the readers are trying to discern the truth right along with Lyra. Features of the human characters and backgrounds are sharp and lively, while the animals, dæmons, and more fantastical elements have more fluid features.

Overall I was impressed with this graphic novel adaptation. The fantasy and real-world elements coupled with the art made for a satisfying experience. I will now be checking out the print novel to compare notes.

-Kathleen

Pullman, Philip (adapted by Stéphane Melchior-Durand and Clément Oubrerie). The Golden Compass: The Graphic Novel. 2017.

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Coronation (Vol. 1)

Others have entered the Labyrinth before Sarah. In fact, Jareth decides to tell Toby, Sarah’s baby brother, about one such woman as he waits for Sarah to fail the maze. In 18th-century Venice, a young woman named Maria is married to Count Albert Tyton, and they seem to have the perfect life. But Tyton has been on the run from his father and the authorities since he married Maria, a woman below his station. When his father finally catches up to him, he succumbs to the temptation of his “visions,” the goblins, and wishes his child – indisputable evidence of his marriage to Maria – away. Maria was accidentally spirited to the Labyrinth as well, before the Owl King snatched her child from her arms and sent her back. She forces her return to the Labyrinth to rescue her son. Will she prevail?

It’s hinted multiple times throughout the book that this may be Jareth’s origin story – but in the Labyrinth, where things aren’t always as they seem, who can say? 😉 This first volume is the set-up for what is sure to be a winding tale of courage and deception, just what you’d expect from an offshoot of the original movie. It will be interesting to see how Maria’s journey parallels Sarah’s as the story moves forward.

The art is superb. The colors are bright, eye-catching, and fantastical. The linework is severely precise and clean, lending a grounding element to an otherwise tumultuous story. The goblins, and some new creatures, are rendered just as if they’d stepped out of Jim Henson’s imagination. Jareth and Sarah aren’t rendered exactly as David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly, but there is a great likeness and they are still instantly recognizable.

Looking forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Spurrier, Simon, Daniel Bayliss, and Dan Jackson. Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Coronation (Vol. 1). 2018.

Cheshire Crossing

What do Alice Liddel, Wendy Darling, and Dorothy Gale have in common? Well, everyone thinks they’re crazy. Each girl has claimed to have gone to a different world and had fantastical, yet harrowing, adventures. They are sent to Cheshire Crossing under the pretense of getting the best medical care. However, Dr. Rutherford, the director, and Miss Poole, their nanny, actually BELIEVE the girls. Dr. Rutherford believes he can teach the girls to control their powers to step in and out of alternate realities – and whatever other powers they may develop. Alice, having none of it, tries to escape. As Wendy and Dorothy try to stop her, the girls accidentally unleash the Wicked Witch upon Neverland, where she teams up with Captain Hook. Can three untrained girls and their nanny possibly have a hope of fixing their mistake?

Nancy reviewed this one for School Library Journal, and at her encouragement I took a stab at this one too. Andy Weir and Sarah Anderson are a lively creative team. They took the question of “What happens after happily ever after?” and decided that for these girls, ever after was not so happy. They are a little more grown up, and perhaps a little more hardened, than you remember, though they have not lost their original charm. It made for a fun romp across the real world, Neverland, Wonderland, and Oz.

I have to admit, like Nancy, it too left me a little confused as to which audience it was meant for. The writing and themes were undoubtedly for a YA audience, but the illustrations skewed years younger. If I didn’t know any better, at first glance I’d say it was a middle grade graphic novel, because of the straightforward panel layout, rounded forms, exaggerated features and facial expressions, and bright colors. In this way, this graphic novel is not as effective as it could have been. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have because I couldn’t get past the disconnect between the writing and the art.

For the target audience (I’ll say upper middle grade to YA), Cheshire Crossing is a fun, empowering take on classic female characters, and going off the cliffhanger ending, with much more in store.

– Kathleen

Weir, Andy, and Sarah Andersen. Cheshire Crossing. 2019.

The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel

Offred is a Handmaid living in the service of the Commander and his wife in the Republic of Gilead. She is not allowed to read, write, hold a job or make money, nor even have any friends. Her sole duty is to bear the Commander’s children. Offred remembers a time before, when she was a free woman. The mere thought is treasonous, but she holds onto the memories like her own precious secret. When the Commander decides to indulge Offred in activities that are forbidden – playing board games, looking at magazines – she realizes that if she plays her cards right, she could be playing for her freedom.

I’ve never read Margaret Atwood’s novel, nor watched the popular TV adaptation. But I was blown away by this graphic novel adaptation by Renée Nault. I was sucked in, compelled morbidly and revoltingly to keep going, and could not put it down until the very last page. Even then I had to set it aside, savor it some more, and most importantly, think, and we all know how I love books that make me think ;D

Having not read the original novel, I’m not sure how much was omitted to pare it down to graphic novel form. I was able to figure most things out on my own, but it could have done with another few pages of exposition when it came to the nuclear fallout and the forming of the Republic of Gilead. There was mention of countries outside North America at one point, and expansion on that would have been welcome too. If these existed in the first place, they must have been edited out. I’m sure it did Atwood’s novel justice.

Nault’s artwork was incredible. It appears to have been done in ink and watercolor, in thin washes and with thin, slightly wobbly lines, echoing the uncertain and tumultuous nature of the story. Even the font was wiggly! There is an airy and yet foreboding quality in the art, as if you’re in a dream that could very quickly and easily turn into a nightmare. I was stunned by the skill and quality of Nault’s work, and will be seeking out more from her!

This graphic novel by turns repulsed and fascinated me, as I’m sure the print book will. The production of this adaptation was magnificent, and I look forward to comparing it to the original novel.

– Kathleen

Atwood, Margaret. Adapted by Renée Nault. The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel. 2019.

The Iliad

Three goddesses once approached Paris, Prince of Troy, to determine which of them was the most beautiful. Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, was chosen to be the most fair above Hera and Athena. In exchange, she helped Paris obtain Helen of Sparta, the most beautiful woman in the world. Her kidnapping launched the ten-year-long Trojan war, in which the Spartans, along with an army assorted of many Greek city-states, mount a siege against the Trojans. Rendered here is the later part of the epic, in which the Greek army is splintered when Agamemnon offends Achilles, and the events that take place thereafter.

Gareth Hinds’ newest adaptation, this one of part of Homer’s epic, is well-researched and rendered beautifully. Even in graphic novel form, it is not light reading, so plan ahead accordingly! There is appropriate white space between panels and it’s broken into “books”, or chapters, to keep things simpler. The character guide at the very beginning was extremely helpful in keeping everyone straight. I kept it bookmarked while reading so I could refer back to it easily when I inevitably got confused. Throughout the story, there are footnotes with more context where appropriate. At the back of the book, there are expanded notes, maps, a bibliography, and more.

Once again, the art is excellent. It appears to be rendered in watercolor, but the softness of the medium does not take away from the brutality of the war or emotional turmoil of the characters in any way. Hinds doesn’t hold back on the blood and gore, nor shy away from showing appropriate intense emotions in the characters. Having read the epic before, I found it very helpful to see the characters’ expressions, and made it easier to understand what they were going through than reading the text alone did.

I have not yet been disappointed with a Hinds adaptation, but this one exceeded even my high expectations! I have a deeper understanding of the famous epic having read it in graphic novel form. It would serve well as a companion while reading the original text. Looking forward to more from this creator, though I am hoping his next adaptation has a lighter source material =P

– Kathleen

Hinds, Gareth. The Iliad. 2019.

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