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Graphic Novel Adaptations of Classic Books

September 1, 2015

In addition to being an ingenious mashup of visual art and literature, graphic novels also have the potential to breathe new life into classic literature.

Graphic novels might be the most stigmatized literary medium in the history of written word. Have you ever found yourself wondering what’s so great about graphic novels? Or what separates a graphic novel from comic books or manga? Have no fear; the answer to (most) of life’s questions is always at your the library. The Internet Public Library defines graphic novels as “book-length comics”. It is important to note that graphic novels are a format, not a genre, so you won’t have to look too hard to find one to match your interests. 

For the skeptics: The graphic novel can be a powerful tool for teaching visual literacy. Reluctant readers and visual learners can cultivate a love for reading through graphic novels. As the old saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words”.

What would you do if three witches said you were destined to be king one day? Would you go on a murderous rampage with the hope of making your dreams come true? Oh, Macbeth. Why, oh why, did you listen to those creepy witches? Dude, they totally disappeared into thin air in the middle of your conversation. One of the great Shakespearean tragedies, Macbeth, is the classic tale of how ruthless ambition can lead to murder and madness. Hinds’ rich illustrations reflect the dark tone and action of the play while staying true to the original text.

Gender representation is a hot topic in discussions about graphic novels and this adaptation of Pride and Prejudiceshines with female characters at the forefront. The novel opens with the Bennett family discussing the possibility of marrying one of the Bennett daughters to the wealthy, eligible bachelor, Mr. Bingley. The graphic novel’s illustrations clarify the dizzying interpersonal drama amongst the characters. If you’re a fan of witty banter and British dramas, like Downton Abbey, you’ll lovePride and Prejudice.

Written in 800 B.C.E., the Odyssey wins the award for being the oldest classic on our list. The poem centers on the journey of Odysseus, a Greek hero, back to his home in Ithaca after the fall of the city of Troy. I’ll be honest. I absolutely dreaded reading this text when I was in high school, and I wish this graphic novel was available back then. Chwast’s adaptation infuses the text with modern language and witty captions, which makes the graphic novel more accessible than the original. The illustrations combine classical, Greek elements with modern inventions, like space ships and rockets. This graphic novel is a fun read, especially if reading classical language poses a challenge to you.

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