With the release of Classical Comics Macbeth (read our interview with artist Jon Haward here), artist Paul Harrison-Davies reviews the company's first outing Henry V for downthetubes...
There seems to have been a bit of a trend in classics adapting lately. Marvel got in on the act years ago, but really, all they were doing was putting out a comic. Publishers like Classical Comics have taken a tougher stance: when you read one of their adaptations, you are not just reading a comic, you're reading an educational tool.
I'm no Shakespeare expert, and haven't read or seen a play since I left school, but it strikes me he's a pretty good choice for a comic adaptation, as like film, and comics, plays are essentially visual. Granted, that visual might be nothing more exciting than two blokes sat by a tree waiting for someone to turn up, but not so Shakespeare - fighting, death, action are the order of the day as much as lofty chat.
Henry V, like other books in the planned Classical Comics range (Macbeth has just been release) is wearing its educational heart on its sleeve with three separate adaptations, original text, modern text and quick text.
As I understand it, we're therefore being offered an easy read, a general read and an almost as good as reading the original versions. I'm not sure this is actually a good idea, even though seems to come from pretty laudable reasons.
Taking the easy read (Quick Text) edition first, I wonder if the lazy reader who now has the option of just flicking through a comic rather than reading the synopsis will really enjoy the story so much they'll read the full text?
Why? This is rather like assuming Tom Cruise fans who enjoyed Vanilla Sky went out and rented Open Your Eyes. It's possible, but not likely, and most people will be happy with the initial fix.
My other concern with the Quick Text edition is that even with the best will in the world (no pun intended) no one is good enough to edit down a 50-word soliloquy into an eight word sentence and retain a sense of the language, or even produce plain interesting dialogue. There may be more to Shakespeare than flowery chat, but I suspect the chat's more meat than veg.
Much more successful is the Plain Text, modern text version. It's still a little brisker than the original but it doesn't jettison nuance in favour of giving the kids an MTV, or worse, DVD on fast forward, experience.
And then there's the Original Text. If you like Shakespeare, and comics, you'll like this. Quite simply, it works.
A good comic artist has to be able to be to dress characters in the right clothes, create the perfect stage, control the lighting and composition, and last, and maybe most importantly, create living breathing characters with a full range of facial expressions. Fortunately, Neill Cameron is able to do all this and keep things easy to follow.
One of the odder aspects of Henry V is the introduction by Chorus, who warns us of the limitations of seeing such an epic tale on a less than epic stage. Imagine something bigger than you're about to seem he urges, and you'll better appreciate the story. Except we do get to see all that. It's a comic. It takes a bit more work on the part of the artist, but you can see it!
In the end, Henry V is a good comic and a fine adaptation, but I can't help feeling three books is one to many. For my money, a compromise between quick and plain text would have be fine, minimising the weakness of both.
• For more about Classical Comics visit the official web site
• Buy the Original Text edition of Henry V from amazon.co.uk
• Buy the Plain Text editin of Henry V from amazon.co.uk
• Buy the Quick Text edition of Henry V from amazon.co.uk