I enjoy the idea of Shakespeare as graphic novel. The medium allows a huge amount of interpretation, from how you edit (or rewrite) the text to how you represent your story visually. Then you need to decide whether you’re actually retelling Shakespeare’s story in this medium, or if instead you’re merely drawing on Shakespeare for your inspiration and taking the story in a completely different direction.
Shakespeare Shaken, an anthology from Red Stylo Media, is firmly in the latter camp. Thirty “graphic works” are presented, each taking a slice of Shakespeare’s work as inspiration to produce a wide range of work from single page vignettes to comic pieces to lengthy murder mysteries.
This is a pretty violent collection, I have to say that up front. I’m not normally a follower of graphic novels (if they’re not Shakespeare) so I’m not sure what the standard is in this regard, but many of the stories I found uncomfortably gory with heads blown off and blood spattered over multiple panels. I thought some worked, some didn’t. Is it an audience thing? The regular readers of a collection like this want their blood, so the artists deliver? I suppose that also explains all the nudity 🙂
There’s a fair share of comedy as well. How about Falstaff as a professional wrestling manager? And I loved the idea of a Romeo and Juliet who survive the final act and are now struggling as a young dysfunctional couple (Romeo keeps texting Rosaline, and Juliet keeps pretending to kill herself to test whether Romeo will join her).
What I like is the amount of imagination that’s gone into the whole “inspired by Shakespeare” premise. There’s plenty of Hamlet/Macbeth/Romeo+Juliet to go around, but also a number of attempts at the sonnets, the Dark Lady, and even the authorship question. Some pieces rely heavily on original text, and some deal with the meta idea of Shakespeare as a person and a writer, taking place in his world rather than the world of his plays. A few appear to have nothing to do with Shakespeare or his works at all, and the reader is left to figure out where the inspiration came from. There’s a science-fiction gladiator story that takes Sonnet 130 as its inspiration that I wanted to like, I just didn’t understand it.
If I have one major disappointment with the collection it is not the blood and gore. I get that this is not for everybody. My problem is that many of the stories seem to stop so short I’m left wondering whether I skipped or missed some pages. A great example is the piece that would otherwise be my favorite, “Brave New World,” which is told one page at a time and spread out through the rest of the book, like serialized installments. I liked the visual style, I liked the pacing, I liked how the story was progressing…and then it just stopped. I know I didn’t miss anything because in this particular piece it said on every page 1/8, 2/8, 3/8 … and I kept thinking “How is this story going to progress in just 8 pages?” Well, it doesn’t. Not much.
There’s a lot here, and I admit that I haven’t had the attention span to read every single story yet. First I flipped through looking for those inspirations that interested me (such as The Tempest / Brave New World). Then I started working back and forth through different pieces, looking to see which would catch and keep my attention.
There’s something for everyone in a collection like this. There’s steampunk, robots, reality tv, murder mysteries, zombies…you name it. It’s a little short-attention-span for my taste, but I suppose we need to think of it more as a sampler of each artist’s work. Find the style and vision that works for you, then go hunt down more by that author?
This year’s Shakespeare Day Celebration is sponsored in part by Shakespeare Is Universal: Shakespeare truly is for everyone, and nothing demonstrates that sentiment better than his most famous quote of all, translated here into languages from around the world. In celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday, show that you believe his works are just as relevant, powerful and important as they’ve ever been!