The Game of Adaptation

Don Quixote, Metamorphosis, Infinite Jest. These are just three novels that have been adapted visually by those who have a vision. A vision of how certain characters really look, when descriptions in the novel of their choosing isn’t very clear or just ignored by one’s imagination. There have been hundreds of graphic novel adaptations done and many more continue to be published! Such as Udon’s recently published Manga Classics; The Scarlet Letter, Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice, Les Miserables and Emma.

What’s fascinating about these adaptations is that many people I’m sure see them as merely taking what’s written on a page and verbatim drawing pictures. And like many articles have pointed out, that simply isn’t all there is. For very complex novels, take Les Mis for instance, even if using an abridged version of the novel a person or group couldn’t take every single sentence and produce something people want to read. Then what’s to separate a comic from simply being a fully illustrated edition of a book.  It takes more than just pictures to make something worth reading, especially a long and rather old classic like Les Mis. Though the images are certainly half the battle. Each artists can bring their own style to the table and people resonate with different art forms. So if something is gritty and very dark as opposed to being made very pretty and fancy has an untold impact on what sells with people.

So what is it that makes graphic adaptations of old, classic novels sell? Many novels have multiple graphic renditions out there, why isn’t one enough? Why do there have to be at least 2 graphic adaptations of Don Quixote, one of them by Will Eisner? It comes down to how the story is adapted, not even the art itself. What liberties does an author take when taking something as vast as Don Quixote. And at only 32 pages no less. How they condense the story (from what is about 800 to a mere 32), make a story more accessible to a modern audience, etc. In the back of the Udon “Manga Classics” they have the authors and artists discuss what they’re approach was when tackling the case of Les Mis.

What it comes down to is if the “soul”/”idea” of the story is conveyed. So Jean Valjean doesn’t share all his lines in the Udon adaptation of Les Mis, it is the soul and idea behind Les Mis that is artfully captured and makes such adaptations work. From what I’ve seen up to 1100 pages to a 300 page manga is truly an incredible feat. If an artist can capture that main idea, what people know and love a classic to be than even if interpretations differ from person to person any graphic version of any novel can be successful and work. Of course the translation and art must go hand in hand, a unity between two seemingly unrelated forces.

There are a good many articles based on compiling lists of the “best” or simple “great” graphic adaptations, such as the link I’m sharing. This one has a variety of adaptations, from classic novels to Alien and even Legend of Zelda!