Graphic Content: Five Surprising Graphic Novel Adaptations

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, a book I vividly remember reading for the first time -- thirty years ago. L’Engle’s coming-of-age story about a young woman’s adventure through space and time to rescue her father had me entranced from the opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night.” I was a bit skeptical when I learned about the recently released A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel. Why mess with something already so beautifully done? However, the graphic novel, adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson, has (rightly so) received high praise for the illustrator’s ability to graphically capture the magic of Meg’s journey all while staying true to L’Engle’s original text.

Larson isn’t the only illustrator that has taken a well-established, written work and successfully adapted it to the graphic novel genre. There are other adaptations that are definitely worth a read -- or a re-read as the case may be. Either way, readers can re-experience familiar works in new, visually compelling way, ranging from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince (adapted by Joann Sfar) to the Old Testament’s The Book of Genesis (illustrated by R. Crumb). Take a look at five works I’ve listed below, highlighting their respective graphic novel “makeovers.”

Dante’s Divine Comedy adapted by Seymour Chwast. In this Seymour Chwast's version of Dante Alighieri's epic poem, Dante and his guide Virgil don fedoras and wander through noirish realms of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. Along the way they catalog a multitude of sinners and saints--many of them real people to whom Dante tellingly assigned either horrible punishment or indescribable pleasure--and meet both God and Lucifer face-to-face. Chwast creates a visual fantasia that fascinates on every page. His inventive illustrations capture the delirious complexity of this classic of the western canon.

Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle adapted by Peter Kuper. Presenting Peter Kuper's acclaimed adaptation of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle with powerful imagery and bold interplay of art and text. The Jungle, Sinclair's most influential novel, recounts the shocking tale of immigrant Jurgis Rudkus and his family, who find themselves at the mercy of a brutal system in the stockyards of Chicago. The original book's exposure of the dangerous, unsanitary conditions in the meatpacking industry created a public furor that led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act. The mood and atmosphere is captured beautifully by Kuper's art and text for this graphic novel adaptation of a classic book that is still read by high school students and many others to this day.

Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Michael Keller and Nicolle Rager Fuller. A graphic adaptation of one of the most famous and contested books of all time. Few books have been as controversial or as historically significant as Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Since the moment it was released on November 24, 1859, Darwin's masterwork has been heralded for changing the course of science and condemned for its implied challenges to religion. In this graphic novel adaptation, the authors introduce a new generation of readers to Darwin's original text. Including sections about his pioneering research, the book's initial public reception, his correspondence with other leading scientists, as well as the most recent breakthroughs in evolutionary theory, this adaptation breathes new life into Darwin's seminal and still polarizing work.

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation. Illustrated by Tim Hamilton. "Monday burn Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn 'em to ashes, then burn the ashes." For Guy Montag, a career fireman for whom kerosene is perfume, this is not just an official slogan. It is a mantra, a duty, a way of life in a tightly monitored world where thinking is dangerous and books are forbidden. In 1953, Ray Bradbury envisioned one of the world's most unforgettable dystopian futures, and in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, the artist Tim Hamilton translates this frightening modern masterpiece into a gorgeously imagined graphic novel. As could only occur with Bradbury's full cooperation in this authorized adaptation, Hamilton has created a striking work of art that uniquely captures Montag's awakening to the evil of government-controlled thought and the inestimable value of philosophy, theology, and literature. Including an original foreword by Ray Bradbury and fully depicting the brilliance and force of his canonic and beloved masterwork, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is an exceptional, haunting work of graphic literature.

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobsen and Ernie Colón. The 9/11 Report for Every American. On December 5, 2005, the 9/11 Commission issued its final report card on the government's fulfillment of the recommendations issued in July 2004: one A, twelve Bs, nine Cs, twelve Ds, three Fs, and four incompletes. Here is stunning evidence that Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón, with more than sixty years of experience in the comic-book industry between them, were right: far, far too few Americans have read, grasped, and demanded action on the Commission's investigation into the events of that tragic day and the lessons America must learn. Using every skill and storytelling method Jacobson and Colón have learned over the decades, they have produced the most accessible version of The 9/11 Report. Jacobson's text frequently follows word for word the original report, faithfully captures its investigative thoroughness, and covers its entire scope, even including the Commission's final report card. Colón's stunning artwork powerfully conveys the facts, insights, and urgency of the original. Published on the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States, an event that has left no aspect of American foreign or domestic policy untouched, The 9/11 Report puts at every American's fingertips the most defining event of the century.

- Anna, Hopewell Branch


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