Sunday, November 3, 2013

Romeo and Juliet in comics

I'm a fan of Gareth Hinds, a comic book illustrator who's probably best known for adapting classic works of literature like King Lear, The Merchant of Venice, Beowulf, and The Odyssey. I wrote a review of The Odyssey on my blog, and I also got to have a short email exchange with him about dogs and his interpretation of the death of Odysseus' dog, Argos. Naturally, I was intrigued when I saw that he adapted Romeo and Juliet, a work with which I am quite familiar as I've been teaching it for over a decade now. I was even more impressed when I saw that it was only thirteen bucks.

I think that artistically, Hinds has outdone himself with this one. The characters all have their own distinct features and body language, the backgrounds are detailed, and the colors create a warm, lifelike contrast to a story that ends in tragedy.

Hinds makes a lot of interesting artistic choices, all of which he explains at the end. He based much of the architecture on the actual Verona, Italy, while borrowing from other parts of Italy as well. He also gave them different ethnicities, with the Montagues being of African descent and the Capulets being of Indian descent. I suppose that some folks might scoff at that, as it's obviously not even remotely historically accurate, but neither is Italians speaking English in iambic pentameter, so why not give us a rendition of the two young lovers that we haven't already seen a million times? (And speaking of historically accurate, did you know that you can visit the homes of Romeo and Juliet when you travel to Verona? You know, the homes of people who probably didn't even exist?)

As for the text, it's probably 95% Shakespeare with just a few tweaks here and there for clarity. He also cuts out a bit, but that's what you would expect if you were to see a movie or stage production. Unfortunately, the Nurse's part gets cut down the most, but I suppose that's a part that works better on the stage than it does on the page.

There might be some people who look down on the graphic novel format, and they would consider this to somehow be a "dumbing down" of Shakespeare's work. (Just realized that this is the first time I mentioned Shakespeare. You all know that the play was originally written by this William Shakespeare fella, right?) Obviously, I would take issue with that, as the man wasn't writing a novel for people to just sit down and read in their living rooms. The text was intended to be adapted by a director and actors. In this case, the artist takes on the role of all of them, and gives us a halfway point between the original and what you'd see on the stage. Personally, I'd like to see more artists adapt his plays.

Like any good adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, this one got me to thinking about the story and what it's all about. I wrote my thoughts on the play some time ago, and all of those came rushing back to me, and probably a few new ones as well. As I've said before many times, I get a bit annoyed when it's simply thought of as a "love story" considering how young they are and how little they even know each other. Shakespeare has bigger ideas going on than just making you sad that two lovebirds die. There's so much negligence going on when it comes to the adults, and maybe it's because I'm a dad now, but I can't help but place a lot of blame on the parents - not so much because they perpetuated the feud between the two families but because they clearly don't even care that much about it, yet they don't take the necessary steps to end it until it's too late. The Prince also shares much of the blame, letting us know at the beginning that the riot that takes place is the third time that's happened. Why didn't he lay down the law the first time?

If you're mostly familiar with the play, and you need a solid refresher with a fresh visual perspective, I definitely recommend that you check this one out.

No comments: