King Lear by Gareth Hinds

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King Lear by Gareth Hinds

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Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A distinctive edited graphic novel of the Shakespeare tragedy, that is a very good way of adapting the source material, but lets itself down at times.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 128 Date: May 2009
Publisher: Walker Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-0763643447

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Hound me out of town in a most appropriate manner, but I do not like King Lear. For me, even as a trained actor, the language is too dense and rich, the set-up too archly unfeasible to create the great tragedy it's thought to be. To my mind the acclaim and esteem in which it's held is only mirrored by its own over-long, over-blown blustering.

As a result, a graphic novel, about a third the length of the original (it took me something like 80 minutes to read it aloud in my best Shakespearean delivery), was quite welcome, as long as it still did its truncating, adapting and envisioning in a sincere way.

The cover quotes and blurb struck me as quite Reithian - they never tried to imply a new, handy crib-notes version, but an honest new production to educate and entertain us all with its nuances. And, as much has been clipped, this is what we get - the unnecessarily divided families without equal play out their tale at full throttle, while we can still pick up on the themes, concerns, motifs and character of the text - even before these are further touched on by the end-notes.

It's the visual side of the book that is akin to the direction and acting of Lear that Gareth Hinds does for us, and it's here he tries the hardest to put a unique spin on things. With several instances of people appearing in two or three poses in the same image, and with rampant, creative use of the metapanel (a page image made up of different 'shots' combined as one, yet separate) this is not a straightforward experience.

We even have to follow an ant's trail across the pages to learn the layout and reading pattern of the dialogue order, which will discomfort some. This puts one in mind of those dancers' foot pattern diagrams, and when we see exit signs and stage directions pencilled in with arrows, we have a sort of pre-destined choreography for the characters, an awareness of an omniscient narrator/director.

However the reasons for this artistry are not always clear. Yes, shatter the layout with THAT storm, twist the page design as Lear (and others?) gets more and more maddened, but why should we lapse how and when we do? It looks like the blind Gloucester atop his cliff adds sanity when we get a clear layout. The most rigid 4x4 grid of pictures is when Edgar is met in the blasted tavern.

And why the blinding gets sound effects, I don't know. I don't think Shakespeare needed them.

As a result we get a visually rich graphic novel, and one suitably matching the dense original, but again it was something I had problems with - without my predisposition. The colours are rich, and the artist's intents fine, when matched with the right effect. Elsewhere we get Regan as a Mighty Mugg, so ugly is page 91.

Many people will welcome this behemoth of world literature turned into a stylish graphic novel, to save their revision time at least. But to many this will remain as confusing, bewildering and impenetrable as the original. I can't cry 'howl!' or even 'foul!', but I don't think I can fully recommend this to classicists or fans of sequential arts.

However... I can see many school librarians, tutors, scholars and more eager for a book like this. If I've watched Kurosawa, got a degree partly in drama, and had several years' on the boards behind me, and still approach Lear with a lot of trepidation even as an audience member, this book could well go to help making the play more appealing. It has a 'recommended for 12 and up' line in the blurb, which I definitely would take notice of, but beyond that it is a welcome eye-opener for many. As a result, I must thank Walker Books for this, and for my review copy.

A much more modern divided family in graphic novel form is in A Family Matter by Will Eisner. For a different legendary tale adaptation, we recommend Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood.

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