Poets and Writers - - Contents - –ELENA GOUKASSIAN

Adapt­ing classic books into graphic nar­ra­tives; Akashic Books launches an im­print for books about grief; Siglio Press cel­e­brates ten years of pub­lish­ing lit­er­ary-visual hy­brids; a Q&A with Emily Ne­mens, the new editor of the Paris Re­view; and more.

Iwasn late 2016 artist Fred Ford­ham

hav­ing cof­fee with his agent. “Glanc­ing around con­spir­a­to­ri­ally,” Ford­ham re­calls, “she passed me a note­book in which she had writ­ten, ‘How would you like to do some sam­ple pages for a graphic novel of To Kill a Mock­ing­bird?’” A few weeks later, Ford­ham met with the team at Pen­guin Ran­dom House UK, who asked him to adapt and il­lus­trate Harper Lee’s iconic coming-of-age story. The re­sult, To Kill a Mock­ing­bird: A Graphic Novel, was pub­lished in Oc­to­ber by Pen­guin Ran­dom House UK and HarperCollins in the United States.

Ford­ham’s agent may have added a con­spir­a­to­rial flair to her pro­posal, but cre­at­ing a graphic adap­ta­tion of a classic text is a fairly com­mon oc­cur­rence for ma­jor pub­lish­ers these days. In the past sev­eral years, HarperCollins has pub­lished graphic edi­tions of Allen Gins­berg’s Howl (2010), Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist (2010), and Abra­ham Lin­coln’s “Get­tys­burg Ad­dress” (2013). Far­rar, Straus and Giroux has tack­led the 9/11 Com­mis­sion Re­port (2006) and Shirley Jack­son’s “The Lot­tery” (2016), while Square Fish, a chil­dren’s im­print of Macmil­lan, has taken on Madeleine L’En­gle’s A Wrin­kle in Time (2012). There have been graphic ver­sions of Shake­speare’s King Lear (Ha­chette, 2006), Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (Nor­ton, 2015), and Homer’s The Odyssey (Blooms­bury, 2012). Pen­guin Ran­dom House’s graphic nov­el­iza­tion of Mar­garet At­wood’s The Hand­maid’s Tale is set to come out in March 2019. And those are just the ti­tles put out by ma­jor pub­lish­ers; many indie houses have been re­leas­ing graphic adap­ta­tions of clas­sics for years.

In Oc­to­ber Pan­theon pub­lished a graphic edi­tion of The Diary of a Young Girl, reimag­ined as Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adap­ta­tion, by Ari Fol­man and il­lus­trated by David Polon­sky. The adap­ta­tion of both To Kill a Mock­ing­bird and The Diary of a Young Girl—two of the best-sell­ing books of all time, with forty mil­lion and thirty mil­lion copies sold, re­spec­tively—seems to her­ald the full ar­rival of the form. “In the last four or five years, there has been a huge

uptick in adap­ta­tions,” says Pan­theon’s Keith Gold­smith, editor of Anne Frank’s Diary. “We live in a visual cul­ture, and this is build­ing upon that. The genre has re­ally come into its own right.”

In his forty years in pub­lish­ing, Gold­smith had never edited a graphic book be­fore the Anne Frank Fonds, the Swiss foun­da­tion that owns the diary’s copy­right, ap­proached him with the project. “The foun­da­tion had clearly al­ready spent an im­mense amount of time mak­ing the book with David and Ari,” Gold­smith says. “They did all the heavy lift­ing.”

In ad­di­tion to adapt­ing the diary into graphic form, Polon­sky and Fol­man were also com­mis­sioned by the foun­da­tion to make a movie. (The pair is best known for their 2008 film, Waltz With Bashir, an an­i­mated doc­u­men­tary of Fol­man’s har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ences as an Is­raeli sol­dier dur­ing the 1982 Le­banon War.) Polon­sky and Fol­man were given cre­ative free­dom to in­ter­pret the diary to suit the graphic form, yet they chose to keep Frank’s most mem­o­rable, philo­soph­i­cal en­tries com­pletely in­tact. “When it is pure lit­er­a­ture, I think it would be of­fen­sive to trans­late it into graphic lan­guage,” Fol­man said in an in­ter­view with the Anne Frank Fonds. “You have to keep it as in the orig­i­nal.” Other sec­tions were turned into il­lus­tra­tions, dras­ti­cally short­ened, or cut al­to­gether.

Polon­sky and Fol­man also high­light Frank’s sense of hu­mor through­out the book. The char­ac­ter of Mrs. van Daan is of­ten drawn sit­ting on her prized cham­ber pot, and her an­tics are some­times ren­dered as melo­dra­matic scenes from con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous films like Gone With the Wind. When the char­ac­ter of Anne com­pares her­self to her per­fect older sister, she be­comes the hor­ri­fied sub­ject of Ed­vard Munch’s The Scream. Mar­got, mean­while, em­bod­ies Gus­tav Klimt’s golden Por­trait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. “The only peo­ple [Anne] could re­fer to were the peo­ple in hid­ing with her, and the way she ob­served them was un­be­liev­ably in­tel­li­gent and in many ways funny,” Fol­man says. “I want to glo­rify the funny parts in her writ­ing and ob­ser­va­tions and put them into graphic lan­guage as much as I can.”

While Polon­sky and Fol­man found their visual in­spi­ra­tion in Frank’s hu­mor and the pop­u­lar cul­ture of her time, Ford­ham drew much of the aes­thetic for his adap­ta­tion of To Kill a Mock­ing­bird from Harper Lee’s home­town of Mon­roeville, Alabama, spend­ing ten days re­search­ing and draw­ing the town that Lee fic­tion­al­ized as May­comb in her novel. “It is strik­ing just how much Lee was writ­ing what she knew,” Ford­ham says. “The de­scrip­tion of the lay­out of the town, the lo­ca­tion of the school, the bend in the road where she places the ‘Radley lot’—it all maps

Mon­roeville as it then was.” In trib­ute Ford­ham’s graphic novel is set in a May­comb that’s the mir­ror im­age of Mon­roeville; the Finch house in the new adap­ta­tion is the one where Lee her­self grew up.

Like Polon­sky and Fol­man, Ford­ham had to dras­ti­cally cut down the orig­i­nal text. “To Kill a Mock­ing­bird is prob­a­bly tech­ni­cally eas­ier to adapt to the comics medium than some clas­sics since it has so much rich di­a­logue,” he says. “And for all the elo­quence of Lee’s prose, the story is ac­tu­ally told pretty straight.” Ford­ham es­ti­mates that he ended up us­ing about a quar­ter of Lee’s novel, “bear­ing in mind that most of the visual de­scrip­tion is trans­lated into draw­ings.” But 90 per­cent of the text in the graphic novel, he says, is quoted di­rectly from Lee’s book.

Polon­sky, Fol­man, and Ford­ham all see them­selves less as adapters and more as trans­la­tors—from text into visual lan­guage—who un­der­stand that some­thing is al­ways bound to be lost in trans­la­tion.

“Some nov­els will prob­a­bly lose their essence in the comics medium, and it’s im­por­tant to be able to rec­og­nize this,” Ford­ham says. “This isn’t due to the unique weak­nesses of graphic nov­els but to the unique strengths of lit­er­a­ture. Adapt­ing a classic text solely to, say, make it ‘eas­ier’ to read, will likely end up do­ing both the orig­i­nal book and the graphic novel form a dis­ser­vice.”


A scene of Tom Robinson’s trial from To Kill a Mock­ing­bird: A Graphic Novel.

A scene from Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adap­ta­tion.

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