Graphic Classics v14: Gothic Classics

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks
Adapted by Rod Lott, Antolella Caputo, Tom Pomplun, Trina Robbins

As you probably gathered from the title, this volume of the Graphic Classics series adapts several gothic stories and novels into comics form. These gothic stories include a vampire story, "The Mysteries of Udolpho" by Ann Radcliffe, which was released some 50 years before Bram Stoker's classic "Dracula", as well as "Carmilla," a ghost story, "Northanger Alley", a gothic romance, and tales by such authors as Poe and Myla Jo Closser.

Your enjoyment of this book will be directly proportional to the enjoyment you get from gothic stories. If you've ever read such works as Shelley's original Frankenstein you know what that means: florid and dense stories that take a very long time to get to their conclusion. The stories of this era are often hard for modern readers to get through because the style of writing has changed so much over the years. I personally tend to find these stories long and rather meandering, taking their sweet time in getting to what modern readers might think of as the sweet spot.

So a book of graphic adaptations of gothic stories seemed at first glance to be a perfect way to bridge the gap between density and movement. I was optimistic that the pace of a comics story would allow the stories to breathe a bit while preserving their original character.

Unfortunately, the longer stories in this book tend to meander more than they focus.

"The Mysteries of Udolpho", for instance, is excruciatingly dense. The average page has six panels containing over 200 words. And the text is rather dense as well: "On removing the saddle from one horse he had found beneath it a small bag containing more than sufficient money to carry them all to France." is a caption I chose at random. This isn't exactly Brian Michael Bendis. It requires a different kind of reading than many readers may be willing to give the stories.

It seems wrong to complain about the slowness of these old, old stories. They are, after all, over a hundred years old and fashions change in writing as much as in any other endeavor. If you are of a mind to read a classic gothic story in comics fan, this is a great book for you. But I found this book to be a pretty tough go.

The most entertaining stories to me were the shortest. Each of those seemed to have a focus and clarity that the longer stories lacked. Shary Flenniken's adaptation of M.J. Closser's "At the Gate" is a completely charming story that takes place in doggie heaven, and Leong Wan Kok's adaptation of Poe's "The Oval Portrait" has a charming art style reminiscent of Gahan Wilson.

I feel bad giving a book like this a slightly negative review. Editor Tom Poplun clearly invests a lot of passion into delivering intelligent and thoughtful adaptations that are true to the original stories. But I found this book to be kind of tough going. The artwork is just fine. But this book tends to err much more on the side of being true to the original stories than in being a quick read.

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