graphic novels

12 must-read graphic novels adapted from classic literature

Don't read these just to 'simplify' difficult texts, but as works of literature in their own right.

Comic narrative, or what Scott McCloud has called 'sequential art' in his seminal work Understanding Comics (1993), has captivated us for generations. “Graphic novels”, really just a fancy name for comics, as Alan Moore has pointed out, are being taken more and more seriously in the literary world, aided by the work of fantastic writers and artists from Art Spiegelman to Alison Bechdel. Many classic works have been converted to the comic format. Here are some of our favourites from the last few years.

Howl: A Graphic Novel 
Allen Ginsberg's Howl is one of the most widely read poems of all time. The animator of the Epstein and Friedman film, and New Yorker artist Eric Drooker, has created the graphic novel version. Drooker collaborated with Ginsberg on this last book of poetry,Illuminated Poems. Animated art created for the film by Drooker can be seen in this book.

The Call of the Wild: The Graphic Novel
Jack London's tale is about Buck, a dog who is kidnapped from his loving home and given into slavery, and who finds another home, and eventually leads a pack of wolves. Indian publisher Campfire released a graphic re-telling, narrated by Lloyd S Wagner and drawn by Sachin Nagar. Campfire has published graphic adaptations of many other classics, from Macbeth to The Frankenstein.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
This 24-issue, 6-volume limited series is not an adaptation, but an illustration of Philip K Dick's iconic novel. That is, it contains the full text of the novel, unusual for works of this kind. Illustrated by Tony Parker and Bill Sienkiewicz, the collection got a "best new series" nomination for the Eisner awards.

Wuthering Heights
Emily Bronte's only novel has been adapted into a comic book by John M. Burns and edited by Sean Michael Wilson. This work, like other adaptations by publishers Classical Comics, comes in two versions - abridged 'original text' and paraphrased 'quick text'. The latter is aimed at children, and fans of the novel will most enjoy the former. Classical Comics also has a good adaptation of Dracula.

African-American Classics
This acclaimed collection adapts short stories, plays, and poems by the earliest African-American writers, and is illustrated by African-American artists. Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and W.E.B. Dubois are amongst the writers featured, and the works span the years 1891 to 1931. The collection has been edited by edited by Tom Pomplun and Lance Tooks.

Prince of Cats
African American artist Ronald Wimberly has adapted Romeo and Juliet to modern day Brooklyn. The hip-hop retelling of the story  focuses on the main antagonist, Lady Capulet's nephew Tybalt, and the wars between the two families of Montague and Capulet. The adaptation is written entirely in iambic pentameter, and has been praised for the importance and authenticity of its new setting.

The Graphic Canon
This three-volume anthology is breath-taking in its scope. The first volume has classics from ancient literature through to the 1700s, such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Mahabharata, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, The Divine Comedy, and The Canterbury Tales. The second volume has 19th century classics by writers such Edgar Allen Poe, Victor Hugo, Jane Austen, and Christina Rossetti. Volume three, of the 20th century, has everyone from Virginia Woolf to Ben Okri. Artists include Will Eisner, Robert Crumb, and Gris Grimly, to name a few.

Le Petit Prince
Joann Sfar, creator of celebrated graphic novel The Rabbi's Cat, has adapted Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's timeless work. This homage and celebration features Saint-Exupéry himself, although sketches of the narrator didn't make it into the final version ofThe Little Prince. There's a whole sequence showing the little boy somersaulting from a plane in order to play with his creator.

The Complete Don Quixote
Rob Davis has recreated Cervantes' beloved classic into an extraordinary graphic novel.The first volume appeared in many “best of the year” lists, and the complete work was twice nominated for the Eisner award. Check out this blog-post for a glimpse into the gorgeous artwork depicting the Knight Errant and his sidekick. Davis has also adapted H.P. Lovecraft's The Dunwich Horror.

Gris Grimly's Frankenstein
There are several comic adaptations of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, but this was the first to use the original novel's entire text. Gris Grimly, renowned for his dark children's books, counts Mary Shelley's novel amongst his greatest literary inspirations. The result is a wildly popular adaptation.

The Graveyard Book
Neil Gaiman's modern-day classic has been adapted into a two-volume graphic novel by P. Craig Russell. One of the biggest reasons to read it is that the protagonist Bod's macabre world has been drawn by a variety of master artists such as Kevin Nowlan, Tony Harris, and Jill Thompson. This is a treat for Gaiman fans and generally for lovers of fantasy. 

Canine/Feline Classics: Volume 25
This volume has two parts - flip to one half and read stories about dogs, flip to the other and read about cats. There are stories by Ray Bradbury, O Henry, P.G. Wodehouse, Ambrose Bierce, Saki, Edward Lear, Kafka, and Lovecraft.

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