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Graphic Classics: Mark Twain

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks
This book contains 140 pages of short stories by Mark Twain adapted into comics form. As you might expect from such a package, the content is a bit of a mixed bag. The best of the stories do a nice job of adapting Twain’s style to comics, while the worst just kind of sit flat on the printed page.

Rick Geary’s adaptation of Twain’s enigmatic “The Mysterious Stranger” was the best of the adaptations. Geary has a wonderfully unique art style that seems ideally suited for stories set in the past, and he works wonders with this one.

“The Mysterious Stranger” is perhaps the darkest and most satirical of all of Twain’s stories, but Geary is adroit at making the story work in the comics form. He takes care to not overflow the captions with words as he skillfully balances text and artwork in a way that helps make the story flow in a clear and thoughtful way.

Geary’s deliberate pacing really helps bring out the central questions of the story--doing an effective job of explicating the enigmas that Twain explored in his original story while his skill with faces and period details adds a nice touch of humanity to Twain’s tale. If only all the adaptations in this book were as good as Geary’s.

Lance Tooks’s adaptation of “A Dog’s Tale” is tight and concise, but his unique illustrative style took me out of the story he was adapting, rather than drawing me in. There’s one illustration in particular, where Tooks uses clip art (page 62) that caused me to completely lose track of the story he was adapting--which is not the best thing to do in a book like this one. He also has a poor mix between text and art, with the text often overwhelming Tooks’s art.

George Sellas’s adaptation of “Tom Sawyer Abroad” has a different problem. As adapted, the story was just plain boring. Events fly and flitter so quickly that it’s hard to feel involved in the story being told. However, Sellas does have a wonderfully animated illustrative style, which makes the story’s exotic settings more interesting.

I also wondered why Sellas chose to adapt “Tom Sawyer Abroad” rather than either Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn. I appreciate that adapting either of those novels might be out of scope for a book this size, but it seems weird to adapt the least literary of the three stories in which Tom Sawyer appears.

Kevin Atkinson’s adaptation of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” works well. The story is, of course, a short and sweet shaggy dog story (so to speak), and Atkinson’s adaptation is tight, concise and entertaining. I really enjoyed the way Atkinson draws faces--especially that of Jim Smiley, the man who owns the frog. There are a few pages that feel overly wordy, but Atkinson’s charming art pulls the story through.

The rest of the adaptations in this book kind of fell in between for me. I thought Antonella Caputo and Nicholas Miller’s “The Carnival of Crime in Connecticut” to be a bit too madcap, but they do deliver some fun, knowing, and clever images. William Brown’s take on “A Curious Pleasure Excursion” is an interesting experiment that doesn’t quite work, and Simon Gane’s take on “Is He Living or Is He Dead” felt like it could have used a few extra pages to be more effective.

Like all the Graphic Classics books, this one presents a wide range of content. This Mark Twain book is more success than failure, but the conspicuous absence of some of the author’s most famous stories makes the book feel incomplete. If readers were presented adaptations of such works as “The Prince and the Pauper” or Huck Finn, this book might feel more authoritative.

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