Graphic Novels and Plays series

| November 15, 2012 | 0 Comments

Authors: William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens
Published by: Classic Comics Ltd, distributed in South
Africa by Knowledge Thirst Media
Example of ISBN: 9781906332044
Reviewed by: Fiona de Villiers

Many years ago, as a novice drama teacher, I sought a way to bring Shakespeare’s Othello to life for my students. My solution was to create a lengthy cartoon, complete with speech bubbles and, unfortunately for my pupils, stick figures. Happily, they reported an increased identification with the Bard’s concepts and characters; certainly the exercise was instructive for me and I repeated it with other plays like Everyman, with equal impact.

Now, many years later, I was intrigued to receive review texts of the graphic novel and play versions of Macbeth, Henry V, Romeo & Juliet and Great Expectations from Knowledge Thirst Media, published by UK concern Classic Comics Ltd, along similar lines.

Three graphic options available

There are no stick figures here, but incredibly inviting, glossy artwork, and in the case of ‘that Scottish play’, 128 pages of medieval-style action. Shakespeare may turn in his grave at the notion and teachers may find the pages crowded and overly busy, but for teens spoiled by sophisticated digital gaming and superhero big-screen offerings, it may well be the way to go. (At the back of the Romeo & Juliet edition, the creative team – comprising a script animator, character designer and artwork specialist, a colourist, lettering artist and design and a layout duo – share with the reader how an intricate process results in over 600 panels that tell the tale of the star-crossed lovers.)

And Classic Comics has been careful to appease the purists in as much as it offers three alternative texts for classroom study. The ‘original text’ version offers the graphics accompanied by the traditional dialogue, the ‘plain text’ updates that dialogue to contemporary English and the ‘quick text’ presents students with an ‘easy-to-read’ experience. Additionally, teachers can acquire photocopiable resource packs that include a CD-ROM in PDF format, ideal for “whole-class teaching on whiteboards and laptops”.

Good supplementary material

No matter which version teachers use, each graphic novel comes with, in the case of the plays, the necessary accoutrements like Dramatis Personae lists, pronunciation aids and plot synopses. At the end of each play, one can find excellent summaries of Shakespeare’s life and writing career, the influences on his writing, and the theatre of his day. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the history of the real Macbeth, coming across facts hitherto unknown to me.

I also enjoyed ‘reading’ the graphic rendition of Dickens’ Great Expectations and the supplementary information about his life and times, and felt that this may be the way to get young people hooked on the original versions of one of the greatest novelists to have ever lived. And, I must confess that in Romeo & Juliet, the inclusion of sound effects like ‘thwaaack’ and ‘swoooosh’ not only made perfect sense, but actually enhanced the reading experience. It’s also interesting to banish one’s own ideas of what these character looked like, in favour of the beings presented here.

Students sure to love Macbeth

My favourite was undoubtedly Macbeth. A play full of blood and guts, desire and black magic, it lends itself so well to the graphic medium – the witches are fantastically evil, for example. I am happy to report that in my favourite scene – Act V, Scene 1, when Lady Macbeth’s guilt gets the better of her – the introductory explanation given in the original text: “A great perturbation in nature, to receive at once the benefit of sleep/And do the effects of watching” becomes the imminently digestible “It’s quite unnatural for her to be asleep and behave as if she’s awake at the same time” in the plain text version; yet the troubled queen’s famous speech that begins with “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” remains much the same in both, thereby losing none of the power created by the greatest wordsmith of all time, William Shakespeare.

Category: Summer 2012

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