Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Old Sinner: Classical Comics (2008)

Classical Comics has a cool format for their adaptations of classic literature. They publish a couple of versions of the same story with the same art, but different text depending on your preference. For example, if you want to read Henry V, you can get the Original Text, the Plain Text, or the Quick Text. I'm usually an Original Text kind of guy, so that's what I picked up for A Christmas Carol: The Graphic Novel, but there's also a Quick Text version that I'd love to see because I'm almost as interested in what gets cut out of these things as how the material is handled that's left in. Oh, well. Classical skips the Plain Text version for this story, presumably because Dickens' English isn't as challenging to modern readers as Shakespeare's.

Like the Marvel adaptation, the Classical version (scripted by Sean Michael Wilson and illustrated by Mike Collins) begins with Marley's grave, but because it's a 160-page graphic novel, it has room to spend a whole page on it. Unlike Marvel's, this version doesn't open on the funeral, but with various shots of the church and its graveyard, ending with Marley's tombstone.

As the text moves to talking about Scrooge, there are several details of the old man interrupted once by the famous Scrooge & Marley sign at the appropriate place. Prolonging the drama of Scrooge's full appearance, we follow him towards the counting-house with him in silhouette and watch his hand unlock the door to his place. I like how when he goes inside, a dog pulls its blind owner across the street, illustrating one of my favorite passages in Dickens' portrait of the character.

Though this is the Original Text version, it is abridged. Dickens' comparison of his ghost story to Hamlet is the first thing I miss. That's disappointing. If they're going to cut that, then why not also cut some of the other text that's made redundant by the illustrations?

At least the art doesn't contradict the text in this one. There's a splash page of the exterior of the counting-house as the text tells us what night it is and describes the weather, but it's nice to see that - unlike Marvel's - it really is cold, bleak, and biting out.

Inside, we don't see the clerk's fire. The text describes it and lets our imaginations figure out what it looks like. I like that. The clerk stays seated through the description, holding his hands near the candle flame in one panel. We finally get a good look at Scrooge and do get to see his fire. It's small and hardly warming, but we can easily imagine a smaller one at Cratchit's desk. Nice job.

Another abridgment though is Dickens' line about Scrooge's predicting "that it would be necessary for [he and the clerk] to part." We're just told that Scrooge keeps the coal-box in his room and that appears to be all the discouragement the clerk needs.

Scrooge is drawn traditionally with a bald head on top and longish, white hair in back. He's thin and hunched over as he works. He looks angry, but he could just be concentrating. It's hard to get a sense of him through the art, but we've already had Dickens' description in the text, so maybe that's not so important.

It takes A Christmas Carol: The Graphic Novel five pages to do what Classics Illustrated and Marvel needed only a couple. That's because Classical is committed to using more of Dickens' text, but I'm not sure it's a great choice. A lot of the illustrations in Classical's feel like unnecessary padding in order to give the text time to catch up. Though Marvel in particular also errs in using text that it doesn't need to, it does that far less than Classical and moves a lot faster. I'm not even sure how much Classical's Quick Text version would improve the pace because they use the same art for both versions. I guess your eye would move through the panels faster without so much text to read, but there would still be a lot of unneeded panels.

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