Tuesday, March 4, 2008

What's Wrong With This Picture?

If you're a reader of a certain age [40 and over would be about right, I think], you may remember a series of comic books based on great works of literature. They were sold under the name Classics Illustrated, and, while no new ones have been produced in years, many of the older books are still available as reprints. I knew a few people who used a C I version of a classic to get at least a rudimentary idea of the story line of books they were unwilling or unable to read on their own. It has been said [by no less an authority than] that it's at least theoretically possible to get a passing grade on tests in many classics JUST by reading the comic book version.
I guess it was only inevitable, then, that the current generation would want the Great Books converted into something that will fit in a back pocket. And nowadays, even the immortal summaries created by Cliff's Notes are too much work. Thus, Cliff [or whoever handles such things for him today] has created a combination of his work, and those comic books of our youth: a line of manga [Japanese-style] comic books, re-presenting the plays of Shakespeare [if you live anywhere near Stratford-Upon-Avon in England, you've no doubt heard the rumbling, grinding sound. It's someone spinning in his grave. Wanna guess who?]!
If you don't believe me [and, Heavens, why wouldn't you?], visit:
(For those too lazy to do even that, we present the Cliff's Notes version of the Cliff's Notes web ad) These new manga comics, according to the previews, feature
"[p]assion and poison. Deception and revenge. Betrayal and assassination. Ambition and murder. Politics and greed. Plots and counterplots. Supernatural visitations and evil manipulation. Packed with drama, excitement, and emotion, Shakespeare's tragedies are a natural in the fast-paced manga format." [I guess all those years we've spent putting them on stages and acting them out has been just a waste of time...] In good news for today's functionally-illiterate students, "[t]ext is greatly abridged, so reading these isn't tedious torture." [Wait a minute, methinks Shakespeare's Spinning Remains have picked up speed!] Maybe I'm just an old fuddy-duddy, but trying to appreciate Shakespeare without the words seems like trying to appreciate water without the hydrogen.
In an interesting move, "these books read front to back and right to left, the way you're used to reading." [The front to back part works for me, but, the last time I checked (probably more recently than the intended audience for these travesties), we read left to right.]
Look, I'm interested in any artist's interpretation of a great story. And, let's face it, like many playwrights past and present, the one-time glove-maker wrote more than was necessary. But taking Romeo And Juliet and Hamlet, and turning them into fodder for Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim", is just wrong, wrong, wrong! Did I say it was wrong? [a big shout-out for that line to TV Judge David Young]
The sad part is, Shakespeare himself probably would have loved it...
-Mike Riley


Deb said...

It's a sad day in literature when Cliff Notes need to be condensed. I mean, the power of the language in those bee-colored classics should be every adolescent's birthright.

Grumpus said...

In primary school I read the illustrated "Macbeth" and was entranced by a comic book that showed such vivid gore! I also thought I was hot shit telling everyone I was reading Shakespeare. I carried that thing everywhere until the library police came to get me.