Not Your Mama’s Comics: Graphic Novel Adaptations of Famous Literature

Go into any bookstore, have a look around, and you’ll notice something you probably didn’t notice two or three years ago. More and more already-published books are being adapted into graphic novels and sold alongside their prose counterparts.

It seems to be a fairly common trend with books intended for teenagers. Stephanie Meyer’s runaway teen hit, the Twilight Saga, has been adapted into a graphic novel series, and has already released Twilight and New Moon as graphic novels (“Graphic Novel Adaptations of YA Books”). Other popular YA series that have been adapted into graphic novels include Ellen Schreiber’s Vampire Kisses series, Scott Westerfield’s Uglies, James Patterson’s Witch and Wizard and Maximum Ride series, and Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series (which also includes a manga adaptation of her prequel series, The Infernal Devices) (“Graphic Novel Adaptations of YA Books”).


Image Credit: Kevin Melrose, from the article “Twilight: The Graphic Novel to bow with 350,000-copy first printing” (Comic Book Resources)

They’re not the only ones receiving the graphic novel treatment, however. Many books are starting to be reimagined as graphic novels, everything from children’s books—such as Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, now available as a graphic novel by artist Hope Larson—to the hit epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. Even classics are being remade into graphic novels. Part of the hope for classics being adapted into graphic novels is that they will encourage even the most reluctant reader to give them a try.

And so far, their attempts appear to be working. Hope Larson, artist of the A Wrinkle in Time graphic novel, says “Now that teachers and librarians have witnessed the power of comics to lure in reluctant readers, we’ll see more and more adaptations of literary classics and popular fiction. Educators and parents are beginning to see comics as more substantial works, or at least useful tools for increasing literacy (Muncha).” Ralph Macchio, Senior Editor of Marvel Comics, also sees the adaptation of classic prose works into graphic novels as a way to draw in reluctant readers. At the ICv2 conference this year, he said that he felt a graphic novel adaptation of a classic would draw readers in because they have illustrations to serve as a jumping-off point into the world of the novel (Hogan).

Dorian Gray

Image Credit: Sterg Botzakis, from his blog post “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (Graphic Novel Resources Blogspot)

So what does all this mean? Well, it means something different for everyone. Some people like this new trend, some people don’t. For me, I rather like it. I think the graphic novel concept for classic novels is interesting—for example, I have a manga adaptation of a series I enjoy, The Dark-Hunters, and I think the imagery helps me to better understand some of the complexities of the mythology. Additionally, I think the graphic novel adaptions of the classics are a welcome sight into the literary world. I think they can make an excellent teaching tool, especially if read in conjunction with the novel the students are studying, to better help the students understand and get them engaged. For example, I’ve seen graphic novel adaptations of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth in bookstores, and every time I see them, I think “those would be great to use in a class that’s reading one of those plays!” As Shakespeare’s language is very intricate and complex, and always better understood when seen as opposed to read, I think that the graphic novel will open up new opportunities for more students to finally understand what exactly they’re reading when they crack open that copy of Shakespeare.

Works Cited:

“Graphic Novel Adaptations of YA Books.” Barrie.Bibliocommons. Barrie Public Libraries, n.d. Web. 17 February 2013.

Hogan, John. “Adapting Prose to Comics.” GraphicNovelReporter. The Book Report Inc., n.d. Web. 17 February 2013.

Muncha, Corinne. “Adapting Classic Books to Graphic Novels.” The Inquirer, 28 September 2011. Web. 17 February 2013.

  3 comments for “Not Your Mama’s Comics: Graphic Novel Adaptations of Famous Literature

  1. kkutnak
    February 22, 2013 at 12:29 am

    I also like the idea that they have been turning some books into graphic novels. I think that it can give a new look on older stories that many people have read. You are correct in saying that they can be a great teaching tool. I have meet a few teachers that have had their high school students read a Macbeth and the graphic novel alongside each other. They found that the students were far more engaged in the discussions in class and they were able to understand the play more easily.

  2. DesireeSW
    February 22, 2013 at 12:41 am

    My little sister (who is 10) doesn’t really like to read, which is really disheartening to me because I’ve always loved to read and I think it’s very important. I was at a store one day and came across graphic novel versions of The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, so I bought her a couple for Christmas, not expecting much, but still hoping. Anyway, she started reading them a couple of weeks later and liked them so much she shared them with her friends. So I definitely think that it’s a great way to get reluctant readers interested.

    My only questions is this: If you read the graphic novel version, can you say that you’ve read the original story? I mean, the illustrator presents their own interpretation to the novel and in doing so, the reader picks up on different things.

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