by William Shakespeare and the team at Classical Comics
Shakespeare and graphic novels seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly. Seriously, it seems like there's a new one coming out every month. You've got your “manga Shakespeare” series. (I remember flipping through their 'Hamlet' a couple of years ago, and thinking it was pretty bad. But I am curious about these books. They can't be doing everything wrong, because they've managed to illustrate fourteen plays.) There's “No Fear Shakespeare,” made by the same company as SparkNotes. Barron's has their Picture This! books, which I've never seen but seem to be merely illustrated study guides, not actual graphic novels. (Not a surprise, given this company gained its fame printing study guides for AP Exams and SATs.) Certain plays appear again and again – Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, Julius Caesar – but Classical Comics is the only publisher I've seen who took on the historical play Henry V.
Henry V: The Graphic Novel was Classical Comic's first published title, and it shows. I don't mean this in a bad way, necessarily. But compared to the stunning art of Jane Eyre and the intensely original rendition of Frankenstein's monster, the art of Henry V seems...underdeveloped. I think part of the problem stems from the need to portray the size of the armies in the heat of battle. The artist would pull away to show armies scaling the walls of a town or charging each other, but the tiny figures become like ants, indistinguishable from each other, with wooden faces and stiff, doll-like figures. Neill Cameron does better on the close-ups; I am pleased that his Henry resembles the 1520 portrait of the king. The art is adequate, I suppose; it reminds me of the old Classics Illustrated comics that I used to read as a kid. But it doesn't excite me the way Classical Comic's later publications do.
As far as the pacing and transition from play-to-graphic-novel, Henry V does quite well. It has three versions of the text:
Original Text: The complete text of Henry V, unaltered from the Bard's vision
Plain Text: Henry V script is updated to "normal" English, but maintains the form and pacing of the original plain
Quick Text: Henry V rendered in modern speech. This is the closest version to our modern speaking patterns.
It was very nice to see someone do a graphic novel for one of Shakespeare's lesser-publicized works, after all the Hamlets and Romeo & Juliets and Macbeths you see around.* As I mentioned in my Macbeth review last November, plays were written to be watched. If there isn't a drama group performing Shakespeare where you live, graphic novels are the next best way to experience the play. So when you get a chance to read one, go for it, even if you aren't a comic book reader. Whether you read in the Original Text or Plain Text or Quick Text, it's worth your time.
* I'm still waiting for someone to make an Antony and Cleopatra graphic novel, though. If you've seen one, please point me in the direction of it NOW. Classical Comics, if you're taking notes please consider adding A&C to the Shakespeare queue after Hamlet and Richard III.