Thursday, December 15, 2011

Old Sinner: Classics Illustrated (1948)

I forgot one! I don't know how Classics Illustrated #53 slipped off my list, but it did and I need to come back and pick it up. It's the first of five comics adaptations we'll look at and since it's Classics Illustrated, it's arguably the most famous. George D Lipscomb wrote the adaptation and Henry Kiefer illustrated it. If you want to read ahead, the Dickens Christmas website has the whole thing.

All the scene-setting is done on a splash page that - by spoiling the rest of the story - reveals that it expects the reader to already be familiar with it. Surrounded by characters from the tale, including the Ghosts of Marley and Christmas Past, a prologue gives us a description of Scrooge's personality and reveals that his partner Marley is dead:
The immortal Christmas "ghost story" portraying the hair-raising experiences of Ebenezer Scrooge, a stonyhearted old skinflint, who lives solely to satisfy his own material wants and scoffs openly at the spiritual pleasures of his fellow-men.

His partner, Jacob Marley, a long time dead and buried, Scrooge carries on the business by himself, even though the sign above the warehouse still bears the legend, "Scrooge and Marley."

One cold bleak and biting afternoon, the day before Christmas, finds Scrooge at work in his counting-house.
One thing I've noticed is that Lipscomb introduces an overt assumption about the source of Scrooge's problem. Dickens lets us know that Scrooge is grasping and covetous, but doesn't say anything at first about why he's that way. That leaves a lot of room for interpretation by adapters and we've already noticed some differences in posture, which is really just another way of talking about Scrooge's presence. Some film Scrooge's are small and miserable men; others are imposing and proud. Lipscomb's "lives solely to satisfy his own material wants," which puts him more in the "proud" category. What's more, it means that Scrooge isn't a true miser.

It's going to be interesting to see how various interpretations mix and match these traits: pride vs misery; material indulgence vs extreme frugality. Scrooge is famous for being a miser, but do all adaptations portray him that way? Something to keep an eye on.

On the second page, the comic reveals that Scrooge and Marley has had a very good year before introducing us to Scrooge's unnamed, freezing clerk who wants to replenish the fire,

Kiefer's Scrooge looks like he should be introducing Tales of the Crypt. He berates the clerk for his age twice on the page; something that I've never seen in the character before. This Scrooge openly delights in his money, but envies youth. That's another strong motivation for him to be the way he is. And, I extrapolate, a strong motivation for him to change in the end. He doesn't have much time left to enjoy his wealth and resents it. The Spirits will reveal to him a way to get pleasure that also offers a purpose.

In the first panel of page three, the clerk returns to his desk to warm his hands on his candle and mutter about Scrooge. This clerk shows a cynical side that we don't see in other versions. He calls Scrooge an "old miser" (which is understandable given the circumstances even if it's not technically correct) and says that if he didn't have a family to think of, he'd leave Scrooge and "his wormy old books." These thoughts are interrupted by a sudden visitor to the counting-house.

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