Keeping Shakespeare Relevant

William Shakespeare’s plays have been around for 400 years or so and while there have been a multitude of movie/stage adaptations of the Bards famous plays, graphic retellings haven’t shared the same spotlight. While not as numerous, there have been a fair number of Shakespeare’s tales and language conveyed through a new medium, the comic and/or graphic novel.

Starting with a more traditional approach to adaptations is the Selfmade Hero company,¬† These are the plays original text put to a different artists take on how the play could visually be seen. Say, Romeo and Juliet set in modern day Tokyo or Hamlet in the year 2107. What’s fascinating about these graphic adaptations is that while the settings may seem a little outrageous at times, again referring to Hamlet set in a global warming devastated Earth, is that these “updated” settings still go hand in hand with the original text.

Look at the cover for their Macbeth. The cover alone does suggest that there would be a modified text to go with the fearsome Macbeth and while the plays are abridged versions of the plays, the rich language of Shakespeare is only enhanced by however the particular artist sees the play! Each has a unique style that does seem to perfectly suit the play, from very beautiful and refined art work to very heavy line work, such as in Julius Caesar.





Then there is a different side of this spectrum, there is the retelling of Shakespeare’s plays. I think of the Romeo and Juliet manga that was released in 2010. Here the story is changed, Romeo’s father having murdered all but one of the Capulets. So Juliet goes into hiding as a young man and soon comes face to face with the dreaded secret of her family. The romance hasn’t changed a bit, the lovers still separated by the hate that really seems to be Montague’s fault and then the ending does resemble what Shakespeare had in mind.

What stands out here is the apparent references to Shakespeare’s other plays and the simple location modification, Neo-Verona with flying horses and what not. A fun read for sure but not a suitable substitute for the original play.



I have seen a lot of other ways Shakespeare has been adapted for a more modern audience, the latest being plays told via text messages and emojis, but something about all of the different comic and manga adaptations say something not only about Shakespeare’s potentially immortal importance but also the the graphic medium. Taking something known practically worldwide and still being able to introduce it in a new way to people. The artwork in some of the manga versions is truly breath taking and some are very crude and harsh but having those images before you help the words come to life and make a bit more sense.