Edited by Tom Pomplun
CliffsNotes, meet your match: A drawing is worth a thousand words “ or at least a couple hundred “ as five classics go graphic in this slim anthology.
Inside, readers find a crash course in Gothic Lit 101 “ isolated settings, macabre and mysterious happenings, tremulous heroines “ via J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla,” Ann Radcliffe’s “The Mysteries of Udolpho,” Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Oval Portrait,” Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey” and Myla Jo Closser’s “At the Gate.”
Of the offerings, the ironic take on the Gothic novel rules here, in the form of “Northanger Abbey,” thanks to Austen’s keen eye for the ridiculous and her adapters’ sensitivity to it. The accompanying graphics are intricate “ like a controlled, visual representation of a classical composition. Read “Northanger” after “Udolpho,” which it lightly spoofs.
Other standouts are the adaptations of “The Oval Portrait,” more creepily illustrated than told and all the more haunting for it, and “Carmilla,” a precursor to Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” with Lisa K. Weber’s richly shaded illustration. Le Fanu’s dreary castle setting offers a foil to Austen’s lighthearted satire, in a realm where emotion, not control, reigns, reinforced by the chasm between the works’ graphic interpretation.
These comic-book retellings ring true to the originals, enough so that one wonders what was left out. The format probably won’t change the mind of Gothic-lit haters, but might make the tales go down easier for reluctant readers.