Thursday, January 7, 2010


By Nate Stearns
Staff Writer

In the classroom, graphic novels offer the greatest help to teachers of Shakespeare. The difficulty of the language and the importance of visualization provide students with the clues they need to translate 16th century drama into a story that means something to them. Most teachers use some form of drama to get at that aspect of Shakespeare, but graphic novel versions of texts can add another layer to the interpretation.

Two recent graphic novel versions offer wildly different strategies in making the Bard come to life on the page. Gareth Hinds’ KING LEAR and Dan Carroll’s STICK FIGURE HAMLET rest on opposite sides of the spectrum. Hinds employs a gorgeous and intricate artistic style while Carroll literally sketches stick figures in a series of boxes.

Hinds’ LEAR doesn’t confine itself in Calvin and Hobbes-like comic boxes but instead uses full pages with a swooping eye-line of dialogue. The art is all pastel washes and sharp lines; LEAR’s famous “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!” soliloquy outlines the king in white lines on a dark background so that he almost seems to be a negative photograph of himself. The fool hides under his robe for his lines.

Hinds does make some decisions with lines that teachers might quibble with. For instance, he excises the line “Her voice was ever so soft, Gentle, and low, an excellent thing in women.” because of the sexist nature of the line. Most of his cuts are done for dramatic effect and accessibility, but a few reach and pass over the line of Bowdlerization. Still, the overall effect is magical and a great boon for students struggling to make sense to the play.

Carroll’s HAMLET is altogether different. The box upon box format is almost never interrupted and there is only the slightest attempt at differentiating between different characters. The graphic novel does, however, make clear that only a few cues from stick figures can help at least get the gist of what characters are feeling during their exchanges. It won’t be much help in chewing through a monologue (like “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!”) except for the bare outlines of what’s happening.

The style also tends to give the whole play an atmosphere of parody and unseriousness; it’s hard to care about STICK FIGURE HAMLET’s feelings. Throughout, Carroll seems to want to puncture the pompousness of the Prince of Denmark without being able to render some of the most beautiful passages in literature with any of the gravitas they deserve. Undoubtedly, students will find the graphics a reasonable help in decoding the play (especially as the work is available online), but it does undercut the power of HAMLET.

Hines’ KING LEAR: Highly Recommended for high school students
Carroll’s STICK FIGURE HAMLET: Recommended for high school students

Title: King Lear
Author & Illustrator: Gareth Hinds
Publisher: Candlewick
Genre: Drama
Format: Hardcover
Edition: First edition
Volume: 1
Pages: 123
Color: Color
ISBN-10: 0763643440
ISBN-13: 978-0763643447

Title: Stick Figure Hamlet
Author & Illustrator: Dan Carroll
Publisher: CreateSpace
Genre: Drama
Format: Softcover
Edition: First edition
Pages: 328
Color: Black and White
ISBN-10: 1448688787
ISBN-13: 978-1448688784

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