Review: ‘Graphic Classics: Oscar Wilde’
Graphic Classics, Vol. 16: Oscar Wilde
Edited by Tom Pomplun
Eureka Productions, February 2009, $11.95
Graphic Classics has been adapting the work of famous dead authors – from H.P. Lovecraft to Rafael Sabatini – for at least five years, mostly focusing on the more popular (rather than literarily classy) writers. And that’s a good thing, since no one wants to see [[[Graphic Classics: Henry James]]]. (“The Face in the Carpet” is not nearly as exciting as the Lovecraft-style title might indicate.)
So this is the sixteenth volume in the series, which are all in the same vein: about 144 pages of comics adaptations of said dead writer’s work, usually with a few long adaptations and some shorter ones sprinkled in for spice. The creators involved are a mix of semi-familiar names and newer folks on their way up – this kind of project, obviously, doesn’t tend to attract top talent. (And is almost certainly better without the kind of compromises “top talent” requires.) Editor Tom Pomplun usually adapts at least one of the stories himself – and why shouldn’t he? It’s his series – and the adaptations sometimes tend to the talky, perhaps in an attempt to be slightly more educational.
(The series as a whole tries to walk the line between “good for you” and “good fun,” and individual stories fall on one side or the other of that divide, but I’ve found that the books as a whole generally are fun, if wordy. I’ve previously reviewed Bram Stoker, Mark Twain, and Fantasy Classics.)
Oscar Wilde has fewer individual pieces than I’m used to in the “[[[Graphic Classics]]]” series – just four long adaptations (“book-length,” they’d be called back in the day) and a single-page adaptation of a line from “[[[The Ballad of Reading Gaol]]]” by Lance Tooks. And the choices are slightly odd to my eye – Pomplun doesn’t include any of Wilde’s humorous plays, like [[[The Importance of Being Earnest]]], which I’d think are Wilde’s best-known and most characteristic works.
However, the first major piece in the book is an adaptation of [[[The Picture of Dorian Gray]]] by Alex Burroughs, with appropriately dandyish art (looking almost like pure pencils, with various gray washes and ever-so-slightly cartoony faces on the characters) by Lisa K. Weber. It’s a very dramatic interpretation of the story, with very few captions, and it moves very well up to the inevitable ending splash page.
Next is “[[[The Canterville Ghost]]],” adapted by Antonella Caputo for Nick Miller’s art. This one is marred slightly by having the captions and word balloons all set in type – it’s a nice, unobtrusive font, easy to read, but it’s still a font, and calls attention to itself that way. (There’s also a lot of words here, as Caputo fits a lot of Wildean words into thirty pages of comics.) It’s a minor Wilde story, about a proper British ghost being gotten the worst of by a stereotype of an American family of the day – amusing, but chosen probably because it’s someone’s favorite story rather than because it’s important.
Next is another minor Wilde story, “[[[Lord Saville’s Crime]]],” with art by Stan Shaw and an adaptation by Rich Rainey. Rainey doesn’t rely as heavily on captions as Caputo did for “Ghost,” which gives this story some more air – it’s driven by dialogue, as a young man about to be married tries to outwit a fortune-teller’s foreseen future for him. Shaw does good faces, and clearly knows it – he zooms in for close-ups quite a lot, and it works well.
And last is the best story in the book, Pomplun’s adaptation of Wilde’s late scandalous play [[[Salome]]]. The art is by Molly Kiely, who brings her always-sensuous line and fine eye for female body language to this overheated story of Herod’s stepdaughter and the captive John the Baptist. (I wish Kiely would do more comics, particularly ones I could talk about in public; she has a marvelous, sumptuous visual style and a light touch in the works she writes, but most of what I’ve seen by her is erotica.) Wilde’s dialogue is overheated by design, and Pomplun lets it be so – and Kiely sets it in scenes where it’s perfectly apt. There’s no one better than Kiely at drawing stories of female desire, and she had a great one here to work with.
Of the four books in the series that I’ve read, Oscar Wilde is the most consistently successful – it may not focus on Wilde’s best-known works all the time, but what it did adapt, it adapted very well. I’m still not 100% sure what the audience is for these books – bored high-school students trying to avoid reading “real” books? Huge fans of the original writers? Dilettantes like me? – but this is a quite good collection of comics adaptations of still-entertaining stories, with two outstanding versions of two of Wilde’s best works.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
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