From Classics to Graphics: 6 Literary Masterpieces Turned Into Graphic Novels

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Abridging classic novels for younger readers is nothing new. But in recent years, classic literature has been graphic novel-ized, making it more accessible for readers young and old while preserving the plot, themes, and sometimes even the author's voice. English class will never be the same, thanks to these classics gone graphic.

1. The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde's only novel, about a man who sells his soul to maintain his beauty, was just begging for a more visual makeover. The 2009 graphic novel written by Ian Edginton and illustrated by I.N.J. Culbard abridges the text, but still keeps much of Wilde's original prose. Marvel's 2008 version has better graphics, but it reads more like a copy of SparkNotes. Both books are recommended as a supplement to—not a substitute for—the original work. In the words of Dorian Gray himself, "How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. If it were only the other way!"

2. The Metamorphosis

The Incredible Hulk. Wolverine. Gregor Samsa. All of these characters undergo major transformations, but only one of them might appear on an AP English exam. Franz Kafka's 1915 novella about a traveling salesman who wakes up to find he's turned into a huge insect makes for a compelling graphic novel. Peter Kuper's 2004 adaptation looks like an enjoyable read, but it goes against Kafka's wishes. When the cover of the first edition was being designed nearly a century ago, the author asked that Gregor not be drawn as an insect. Instead, he hoped readers would conjure their own image of "horrible vermin" when picturing the creepy-crawly protagonist.

The Trial, Kafka's dystopian novel about the perils of bureaucracy, has also been adapted into a graphic novel. And if you want to learn more about the man behind the stories, check out Kafka's graphic biography by R. Crumb and David Zane Mairowitz.

3. Ulysses

Ulysses is one of those works that comes with a few barriers to entry. For starters, the Penguin Classics version is 1040 pages long. Then there are the 18 unstructured chapters that James Joyce boasted "[have] so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant." (Thanks, dude.) But Robert Berry's "Ulysses 'seen'" makes the modernist masterpiece more modern—and accessible—than ever. The graphic novel is available for free online or $7.99 on the iPad. Like the original, Berry's adaptation is serialized and raised a few questions of obscenity—Apple required nude images to be removed. Unlike the original, each chapter comes with a handy reader's guide.

4. Pride and Prejudice

Plenty of readers all over the world have no trouble reading Jane Austen's most popular novel. But what do you do after you've devoured the text and the six-part BBC series with Colin Firth as, omg, Mr. Darcy? Here's an idea: Get another fix with this 2009 graphic novel version from Marvel. The story's abridged, but reviewers on Amazon say it's more true to the novel than some film adaptations. The women's-magazine-style cover with headlines like "Bingleys Bring Bling to Britain" is fun, too.

And if you like this Marvel graphic novel, there are many others adapted by author Janet Lee, including Sense and Sensibility and Emma.

5. The Diary of Anne Frank

Image Courtesy The JC.com

Anne Frank couldn't have imagined that the diary she started two days after her thirteenth birthday in 1942 would ever become a best-selling memoir, a Pulitzer-Prize winning play, and an Academy Award-winning film. The diary's latest incarnation: a 2010 graphic biography written by Sid Jacobson and illustrated by Ernie Colón. Commissioned by the Anne Frank House Museum, the biography depicts many years before and after Anne's time in the Secret Annex, from her parents' early lives to the publication of her diary to her father's life as the family's sole survivor.

6. A Wrinkle in Time

Image Courtesy GoodOKBad.com

It may not be part of the canon, but Madeline L'Engle's 1962 science fiction fantasy novel is a young-adult classic. While the original work contains a few illustrations, the graphic novel by Hope Larson published October 2 is the first to fully depict Meg, Calvin, Charles Wallace, and the rest of the characters as they journey through space and time. And c'mon, you know you want to see how Larson draws the tessering process.

Which classic would you like to see adapted next?

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November 1, 2012 - 9:00am
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