Having just read and enjoyed Nancy Butler and Janet K. Lee's Jane Austen's Emma, I was more than happy to see the corner of their Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey peeping out at me from the comics section at Barnes and Noble. Though one of Austen's earlier works and not as familiar to readers as Pride & Prejudice, Northanger Abbey is still a smart story filled with wit and charm. Butler and Lee retain those characteristics, making only the subtlest and most delicate of changes in translating the prose to the graphic format. Authorial explanations and asides are given to characters to speak or think, thus preserving Austen's humor and keen sense of the ridiculous.
After a brief opening that mocks gothic romance novel conventions of the early 19th century and introduces readers to Catherine Morland, the story moves to Bath, where she is introduced into society. While sweet, Catherine is naïve and inexperienced. Though she can hold her own in a flirtation, she lacks the ability to see people as they are. Nowhere is this more evident than in her friendship with Isabella Thorpe. The two girls meet and become immediate BFFs, bonding over their love of gothic novels. However, if you read Isabella's dialog and look at her snide and insincere expressions for even a moment, you can tell she's a shallow, two-faced, opportunist. There's actually a great deal of humor to be had in watching Catherine not get what Isabella is doing.
Other characters Catherine encounters are the boorish blowhard John Thorpe and the charming Henry Tilney. Lee captures Thrope's personality perfectly with his large head, squinched up eyes, and almost perpetual smirk. In contrast, Tilney is open-eyed and has a warm smile, though his nose does tend to change length and shape in the scene in which he's flirting with Catherine.
Lee's almost caricature style of art is well-suited for depicting the characters' expressions. It gives readers unfamiliar with Austen's prose style visual clues as to what's going on.
Though I'm no expert on early 19th century fashion, it looks as though Lee has done her research. The ladies' gowns and gentlemen's attire seem right for the era, as do the buildings and interiors. Austen herself didn't include much description in her novels, so Lee must have done some digging.
Nick Filardi's colors are subdued without being dull. They enhance the drawings, not overpower them. He's especially good at creating a luminescent glow of early morning sunlight.
Nothing suits a heroine better than a glowing background.
Let's be honest. Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey #1 isn't going to appeal to everyone, but it's a well done issue that deserves to find an audience. As the gothic romances it's mocking are the grandmothers of today's paranormal romance series, it's a timely read. I'd recommend it without reservation to fans of Jane Austen's books and teenagers (and older readers!) with a sense of humor who are over their Twilight phase.
For the past 13 years, Penny Kenny has been an elementary library paraprofessional in a rural school district. For the seven years prior to that, she headed a reading-math program designed to help first grade students with learning difficulties. Her book reviews regularly appeared in Starlog from 1993 to the magazine's unfortunate demise in 2009 and she has published several e-novellas under a pen name. She has been a reviewer with Comics Bulletin since 2007.