Off My Mind: Classic Literature as Comic Books

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Posted by G-Man (34037 posts) - - Show Bio
Comic books aren't just about superheroes. With books like The Walking Dead, Chew, Fables and American Vampire, there are other genres that are available in comic book format. Another genre that isn't new but has been seeing more attention lately is literary classics. I haven't really given them too much thought but it was AMP - Seeker of Lost Knowledge that brought them to my attention. 
Marvel especially has been putting out several titles lately. In the last few years they've published comic versions of Treasure Island, Last of the Mohicans, The Man in the Iron Mask, Moby Dick and Pride and Prejudice among others.  
I enjoy comics in different genres but I have to ask, what the heck is the deal with these literature comics? Is there really a need for comic books based on the classics
 == TEASER == 
If someone is a huge fan of the classics, there's the chance that they would want to enjoy it in comic book form. After having read the original over and over, this would be a way to get a new interpretation. It could also be a way for them to share the story with someone that might not want to take the time to read the actual book. 
I would imagine if someone had to read a classic for a class, they might be tempted to read the comic version. This could be a risky move since there's the chance that it wouldn't be a true adaptation and could be more expensive than just buying Cliff Notes. Of course neither will give you the full content of the book.
Another reason for these adaptations could be to bring new readers to comics. A fan of the classics might come across the comic and read it or receive it as a novelty gift. As crazy as it sounds, there are some people that feel comics are for kids. Seeing a classic in comic form might change their mind. It could show them that comics aren't necessarily juvenile. They could become converted into trying other comics.
There may be some good reasons for all these classic adaptations but the chance that I will actually read one is pretty slim. I can appreciate why they're made but I would rather see the creators on the book work on something more original. According to Comic Vine, Moby Dick has appeared in 15 different volumes, the Three Musketeers have appeared in 16 and the Man in the Iron Mask has been in 6. Do we really need to see these stories adapted over and over? Would it be better to have these comics expand on the original source material like the Stephen King comics of The Dark Tower or The Stand do?
I'd like to hear from people that have read any of these adaptations. How do they compare to the originals. Is there really a big market for them? 
#1 Posted by Gregomasta (333 posts) - - Show Bio


#2 Posted by Green ankh (998 posts) - - Show Bio

I think it is great that this stuff is done. In fact i wish more would ... Jane Austin books come off as chick stuff but once you really read it, it is so much more.  War and Peace, the Idiot or the deer  
slayer books would make a great comic series. And what a great way to interest people into acctully picking up a novel.

#3 Posted by Baron_Emo (3570 posts) - - Show Bio

My all time favorite book is Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I was stoked when Marvel announced that they were doing a comic adaptation of the book. They have also since adapted Ender's Shadow, A War of Gifts, and Ender in Exile all in the same universe, and all very faithfully to the books. There have also been a couple of one-shots that are entirely new material not seen before. 
I have read most of it. It is interesting seeing this world in a visual format for the first time. (There have been no movies, cartoons, etc. Just cover illustrations at best) Marvel has done an excellent job, but by contrast it is sooo much thinner than the original novel. Even when you break Ender's Game into 10 issues, it still just hits the high points.  Also, the book revolves largely around a system of zero-g battles in a space station. It was really difficult for them to convey the action of these scenes in the comic. It was very detailed and engaging in the novel, and kind of vague in the comic.  
All this said, I am very excited about the next book Speaker for the Dead. It takes place much later and has very different themes from the earlier stories. I think it will lend itself to a  visual interpretation more easily. We have different alien species, an alien planet, a sentient computer program, etc.  
It depends on the source material. If it is something we have seen multiple times in different formats, then no, I don't think it's necessary. But something I am familiar with, and we have seen little or no interpretation of, I find myself looking forward to it.

#4 Posted by Jake Fury (18617 posts) - - Show Bio

I'm dying for a college student somewhere to read Pride, Prejudice & Zombies as a class project.
#5 Posted by danhimself (22541 posts) - - Show Bio

it depends on how it's done I suppose...I know a lot of people are liking Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep but for me it's no where near as good as the book and even harder to sit and read...they put every word from the book into that comic and every issue is a really really long read

#6 Posted by blaakmawf (187 posts) - - Show Bio

I think its all fun and good as long as people don't see them as a stand in for the original work.

#7 Posted by brc2000 (1679 posts) - - Show Bio

I generally prefer novels to comics, but if it gets more people interested in classic stories, I'm good. Plus, sometimes the images add something extra to the experience.

#8 Posted by pikahyper (12133 posts) - - Show Bio

I think I've read all of the Marvel literary comics but most of them haven't done that well sales wise, the most popular one wasn't even mentioned though, Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it was pretty successful as far as I saw and showed that there is some demand for it at least enough to produce multiple printings and two follow up minis.
I like to think the Wonderful Wizard of Oz did better then the other Marvel literary comics because of the spectacular art of Skottie Young whereas the other Marvel books artwork didn't bring anything new to the table.
I've also always seen comics as a good way to teach children that don't like traditional reading materials and having literary ones available makes it that much easier to meld comics and legitimate school work and gets the newer generations into comics :D

#9 Posted by SigersonLTD (134 posts) - - Show Bio

I believe reading anything more into it than the need to find additional revenue streams is a massive fail. Sure, they may justify the initial expense by stating that it will attract more readers to comics, however, some would only buy the classics in comic form, and nothing else.

#10 Posted by Mainline (1129 posts) - - Show Bio

These kinds of things help break the genre barrier and show that comics are a broader medium, the adaptations can assist in the comprehension of more dense works, and the classic subject matter means the comics can make it into the hands of kids barred from strictly entertaining materials (into schools, into homes with restrictive parents, into libraries, etc).  It can also serve as a gateway to classical literature for kids already into comics. 
From my own experience, I know that I was always drawn to Digests and Short Fiction, but a set of hybrid prose/sequential-art pages got me into reading the complete works of Dickens... stodgy descriptive storytelling and long dense casts lists with names I could never remember were exchanged for lovingly painted panels filled with detail and characters with distinct looks now made easier to distinguish and keep track of visually.  I know that Don Quixote was unsympathetically crazy to me reading through, but illustrated, you could almost get sucked into his cosplay. 
Of course, at the end of the day they're made because they sell well enough to justify their creation.  Rarely are the creators being taken off genre books to produce these, instead they're a freelance creative team (or a salaried creative team that would otherwise be in a holding pattern).  The classics sell and re-sell in their original form to this day and many are public domain meaning no licensing fees yet you get to ride on all the goodwill towards this classical work build up over the decades (if not centuries).  People will buy them big, fat, slim, paper-backed, hard covered, leather bound, spiral bound, pop-up book, pocket-sized, illustrated, annotated, perforated, CD, MP3, large print, and any other way the market demands... so comic form is just another angle.

#11 Posted by Mazeburn (1 posts) - - Show Bio

I think it depends whether or not they're a manga adaptation of Shakespeare. Bishie Hamlet? No. No.

#12 Posted by FoxxFireArt (3554 posts) - - Show Bio

What is better than comics with classic literature? Muppets with classic literature, A Muppet Christmas Carol or Muppet Treasure Island.
Though, what could go wrong with muppets?

#13 Posted by G-Man (34037 posts) - - Show Bio
@pikahyper: I should've mentioned the Oz books by Shanower and Young. I absolutely love them. I think it's that I don't see those as straight adaptions since they're so fun and well made. The other "Illustrated" books seem a little stuffy to me.
#14 Posted by Doctor!!!!! (2055 posts) - - Show Bio

Of course they can be adapted.... 
it depends on style and how they adapt the original work. 
then it won't be as interesting to read. 
Just Sayin'....

#15 Posted by Dr. Maxwell (661 posts) - - Show Bio

I'd rather read the actual novels

#16 Posted by inferiorego (24529 posts) - - Show Bio
Classics Illustrated had many different volumes and they did what Marvel is doing now, but more than 60 years ago. You can still find many of their abridged versions of classic novels in the back issues section of many comic book stores.
#17 Posted by tigerex78 (147 posts) - - Show Bio

Perhaps it is a way to get people interested in the classics so they can then read the actual novels.  A representation like this may be enough to get people interested in more.  Fairy tales have had comic adaptations and I've seen the Greek classic the Odyssey adapted for comics.  I don't know about the market for them.  I don't see the harm in it. 

#18 Posted by Dr. Detfink (460 posts) - - Show Bio

They did an Ann Rice run on comic book adaptations in the 90s. The Current Dark Tower Stephen King story is doing VERY well. Along with the Stand. It's there...

#19 Edited by comicbikerscott (152 posts) - - Show Bio

i love every genre incliuding classics
#20 Posted by Jacory44Williams (89 posts) - - Show Bio

some novels, book series, or plays could be turned into comic books and graphic novels

#21 Posted by doordoor123 (3721 posts) - - Show Bio

i like some books turned graphic novel.
#22 Edited by etragedy (1079 posts) - - Show Bio

Some of the classics actually adapt very well to comics.
The comics/graphic novel medium is a young one relatively speaking - perhaps in some cases the original authors might have considered the graphic novel medium rather than prose fiction, were they writing today.

One great example is the epic of the Illiad which Eric Shanower has done an excellent job of adapting with The Age of Bronze in some ways it's actually superior to the written version (which, let's face it, is itself an adaptation since this was originally an oral tale) because Shanower has depicted Bronze Age Greece/Turkey in exquisite detail based on actual archaeological evidence - something the ancients didn't need (since they were there) but provides a context the modern reader of the text only version might not have without a background in the history. One only needs look at all the inaccurate depictions of the times that have made it onto the screen to see how people who only read the Illiad (in prose) formed very anachronistic ideas of the technology, architecture, dress, art, etc. of the era.
#23 Posted by Decept-O (7277 posts) - - Show Bio

I had a great English and Lit. teacher who had these Classics Illustrated comics on a side shelf in her classroom.  Students were allowed to read them but not for purposes of assignments, but for leisure.  Pretty awesome if you ask me.   
They were nice, actually, and I enjoyed the incredible artwork on display, especially most of the covers, which were usually painted.  It introduced me to the notion that comics could represent more than just superheroes and cartoons.   
Why not Classic Literature in comics?  Yes, I do prefer reading most of the books themselves, but its nice having these available.  I view them as helping people who otherwise may not be inclined to read such books.  Yet, just to add, again, the actual books are preferable and should be the original source to read.
#24 Posted by bybeach (10 posts) - - Show Bio

When I was a kid there was Classic comics. I forget who put them out but I remember them. They were,as far as I could tell, faithful to the written form, abbreviated of course. And blood in them was darker and such when someone was shot, harpooned, or stabbed with a sword. Just what I remember, the whole color palette in fact was a bit different, and more constrained with the facial gestures, body language and such. I was a fan of spiderman, but  I read even classic comics if they were in a friends room.
#25 Posted by NightFang (10057 posts) - - Show Bio
@Gregomasta said:
" Intresting "
#26 Posted by Roter_Sand (26 posts) - - Show Bio

I fully support classic literature in comics. I don't think anyone would/shoul seriously consider it a substitute or as a academic sourcebook.
#27 Posted by Seraphim84 (58 posts) - - Show Bio

These kinds of comics are the only way my father was able to get through his English classes back in the 50s.  I wholly support them.

#28 Posted by Silkcuts (5272 posts) - - Show Bio

I like Literature adaptations.  If it is a way to get people to read, then good.  The comic adaptations tends to be closer then the movie versions.

#29 Posted by cbishop (8192 posts) - - Show Bio

I have yet to actually read it, but I had to have a copy of Classics Illustrated Moby Dick, to go with my Bone collection. :D

#30 Posted by buhssuht (14 posts) - - Show Bio

sometimes, its hard to understand and picture what the hell is going on by just reading texts. so for me i would love to read some of those so i can actually see what's going 

#31 Posted by MadClawMannn (52 posts) - - Show Bio
Pride and Prejudice and Zombie comic!
#32 Posted by The Impersonator (5483 posts) - - Show Bio

Adaptions? It should be Adaptations.

#33 Posted by G-Man (34037 posts) - - Show Bio
@The Impersonator: according to the dictionary, adaption is "another word for adaptation." For some reason I mentally avoid adaptation. So while it is acceptable, I changed it. Thanks.
#34 Edited by crusader8463 (214 posts) - - Show Bio

I prefer when they just use the basic concept of classic stories to tell their own story. Like taking the story of Achilles and his heel and making it about a modern day super hero. Or Moby Dick be a crime series about a detective trying to get a crime lord. Or just set it in space. Space makes everything cooler.
I can't recall what the series was called, but I kind of remember reading a compilation of various classics stories, but telling them set in the Star Wars universe. Maybe I just dreamed it, but it was very entertaining.

#35 Posted by Icarusflies (12503 posts) - - Show Bio

Usually the classics aren't so great for comic adaptation... 
I did once read a graphic novel version of The Painting of Dorian Gray, simply because I had read the book and wanted to compare. It was fine, but it does make you realize something: 
One of the things that distinguish classics, is that so much is about describing surroundings. This is removed in comics (due to the illustrations), and makes the books seem a bit flat.

#36 Edited by pikahyper (12133 posts) - - Show Bio
@G-Man:  Those Oz comics really are their own entity, they are simply fantastic, I've always liked Young but he went to a whole new level when he started Oz.
I agree the other comics are pretty stuffy but I am just glad they are being made and that people are reading them because reading classic books is a dying art these days. These younger generations (not all but most) really don't care and wouldn't know what you were talking about if you described a book older then 20-30 years unless it had a movie adaptation, it is sad but even if just a select few kids get into the classics cause of comics there is hope for the future :P
#37 Posted by InnerVenom123 (29500 posts) - - Show Bio

I'm reading "I Am Legend" in comic form at the moment. It's pretty damn good.

#38 Posted by AMP - Seeker of Lost Knowledge (1221 posts) - - Show Bio

I think like maybe 8 or 7 years ago I read 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (I think it was like cpoies of a SILVER AGE version...I forgot how it appeared) back in middle school with my class as we then watched the film version like days/weeks later. I was interesting...compared to the book. Don't get me wrong...I like comic books....but sad to say that I read less books (actual poket size, harcover, paperback, more than 100 pages)....but in some cases it helps comic book readers to become aware of AUTAL books. 
Here on Comic Vine I have found comic book/manga versions of novels that not only what G-MAN has pointed out from MARVEL, but from other publications...
#39 Posted by greenenvy (634 posts) - - Show Bio

Well how about superheroes moving into literature instead of just comics? What is your guys thoughts on that perspective? I it would probably make superheroes more serious and timeless even more I would not mind that at all. Not crazy about literary classics as comics it depends but I like how fairy tales are  being adapted into comics at least or old mythologies. 

#40 Posted by The Sadhu (853 posts) - - Show Bio

i think its a good idea. introducing literature greats to a new audience thru a familiar medium!
#41 Posted by cbishop (8192 posts) - - Show Bio
@greenenvy: There are a bunch of novels out there, featuring various comic characters.  Some of them are excellent, but for the most part, they're never going to be called classic literature.
#42 Posted by BradBrains (91 posts) - - Show Bio

totally am buying that Pride and Prejudice Comic

#43 Posted by TheMess1428 (2176 posts) - - Show Bio

I'd much rather see "sequels" or some kind of story with just the character rather than the exact same story from before.

#44 Posted by Silver Knight75 (1145 posts) - - Show Bio

you know what would be interesting? 
A Few Good Men in  comic form

#45 Posted by Chicago_Bruce (81 posts) - - Show Bio
@inferiorego said:

" Classics Illustrated had many different volumes and they did what Marvel is doing now, but more than 60 years ago. You can still find many of their abridged versions of classic novels in the back issues section of many comic book stores. "

Thanks for bringing this up - as this was the point I was going to make. 
I've got several plastic storage containers full of these classic illustrated comic books - I enjoyed reading them when I was a kid - even though by the time I got to them, they were already 20 years old. I didn't mind though. I helped me be a better reader by the time I got to classic literature in the classroom, as I had a better sense and sight of what was going on, keeping in mind that I had already read it in comic book form earlier in my life.
#46 Posted by jakob187 (998 posts) - - Show Bio

Personally, I enjoyed Bram Stoker's Death Ship, which was put out by IDW not too long ago.  It basically acted as a lost chapter in the book Dracula, detailing the voyage of the Demeter that Harker was on before it ran ashore.  This was something that expanded on the original literature rather than adapting Dracula into a comic book.  Still, it made me remember how much I loved I went back and read it.  Having that little piece about the Demeter in the back of my head was awesome for re-reading Dracula! 
I also look at Eric Shanower and Skottie Young's work on Wizard of Oz, Land of Oz, and Ozma of Oz.  It's wonderful stuff, and they adapt the novels in a very similar language.  They don't demean or harm the material, but instead, they bring it back to life to a whole generation that never knew Wizard of Oz was even a book!!! 
I'm all for adaptations, so long as they don't take away from the original.  It's actually one of the reasons I DON'T like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  It takes away from what the original was trying to do, and now that we have seen it, we cannot look at Pride and Prejudice in the same light anymore. 
Then again, I look at most literature TODAY and I just can't see anything lasting in the same way as many of the old old stories that are out there. 
To end this long-winded speech, I will say this:  I'd love to see someone tackle and adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Brother Karamazov or William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.

#47 Posted by Danial79 (2351 posts) - - Show Bio

I'd like to see some classic sci-fi comicized. Things such as Brave New World and H.G. Wells titles. I'd read those!

#48 Posted by Nova`Prime` (4165 posts) - - Show Bio

Let's not forget:

So far its a great read, and a friend of mine who has read John Carter tells me the comic so far is keeping pretty faithful, with a few exceptions.
#49 Posted by BKole (501 posts) - - Show Bio

Back in the olden days before comics were diluted down into Hero's 24/7 there used to be EVERYTHING. Romance, Cowboys, Singing Cowboys, Funny Animals. Crime, Punishment actual proper horror, parody. Everything. 
I don't think there is anything wrong with the Classic's being reintroduced as Comics. When we went to a comic convention, my girlfriend bought a copy of Romeo and Juliet. I got Frankenstein. They were doing all sorts of comics, in three versions. One with complete text, one with diluted down and one with just the jist of it. I think it's a great way of introducing people to things they might not want to read - Like younger kids, or people who're not interested in Super heroes all the time. 
My Girlfriend doesn't like super heroes. My friend doesn't like superheroes, but they both read comics because I introduced them to something they wanted to read. No reason not to push comics as far as they can do - They adapt everything else, why not classics?

#50 Posted by bingbangboom (746 posts) - - Show Bio

I think it is cool but would be better if they released them in cheaper digest formats because might be more affordable for kids in school plus make great stocking stuffers.

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