… Oh My!
In March of this year, the publisher, Quirk Classics, released a new edition of the Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice. Big deal right? It’s a book outside of copyright, and gets reprinted all the time. You can even download it for free from Project Gutenberg. Why does another copy matter? Because the title of this new edition is, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Yes, it is exactly what you think. The classic tale of love and society, now infested with plague-born zombies. Now, not wanting to miss any piece of humor that this gem might deliver, I set out to read the original and research it’s history so that I can be fully aware of every joke. Little did I expect that while reading, I would strangely enjoy the Austen original, though I have to admit, I have no clue why. It is not on a topic I enjoy, in fact it comes off more as a daytime soap opera than an enriching novel. I do not relate to any of the characters, most likely because I am not rich, not a young woman in need of a man, or alive in the 1700s. Somehow, though, despite the out-of-date vernacular, and simple plot progression, I am enthralled with this tale. I originally intended to read a free version of the book from Project Gutenberg on my eBook reader, but I have found myself, more often, listening to the free audio version from LibriVox. Being a classic tale and outside of copyright, there are literally hundreds of formats for this story, and all these readily available forms (including the one infested with zombies), along with my new fascination for the book, made me curious as to what other incarnations there might be.
That is when I came across this: Marvel Comics presents Pride and Prejudice.
I assure you, you read that correctly.
At about the same time Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was released, so was the Marvel comic adaptation. No zombies, no sword fighting, no ninja princesses. The exact story as told in the novel, in comic book form.
Now the comic book is no rare format for adaptations of literature. Countless authors have found their way to the comic world, including the works of Robert E. Howard, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe, etc… But each of these authors’ stories hold something in common. They often coincide with an already relevant comic genre, i.e. horror, action, fantasy, etc… Jane Austen hardly seems the type of author that could appeal to your general comic book fan. This most likely means, it is in fact meant for the demographic that would read Pride and Prejudice. These would be your classic literature enthusiasts, young women, and the general populace that ten years ago would have shunned a comic book as a childish past time. Can this possibly mean that the comic book is officially becoming a respected medium of fiction, or has Marvel finally gone completely daft?
It has been no unknown fact that the comic book has been reinvented for more mature audiences within the last thirty years, most notably, DC comics’ Vertigo brand, and Marvel’s MAX imprint. Most recently the films Dark Knight and Watchmen have made a mark showing the world what adult-branded comics can provide. However, these are still oriented toward someone who would have read comics in their youth and essentially grown up on them. This still keeps the format within it’s stereotypical bounds. But if honest (non-adventurous) classic literary tales, are now being adapted into comic form, this can take the format to whole new levels of respect. But does it?
In the book, Watchmen and Philosophy: A Rorschach Test, there is a chapter by Aaron Meskin that discusses comics (notably Watchmen) as literature. The eventual conclusion is that while Watchmen can be fit into major theoretical definitions of literature, it is ultimately up to the general appreciation of the work as to if it becomes literature, or just another story with pictures. This, however, only helps us to define a piece of work meant for comic book format as literature. Certainly, having stories meant for comics to be comparable to classic literature is a great achievement. The problem with this mindset, though, is that we really only respect the author/creator for his work, not the medium in which he created his work. Our big question is, “is the comic book format respected enough to be considered a major medium of fiction?”
Alan Moore (writer of Watchmen) believes that the comic book certainly has it’s advantages over other formats. He advises to tread carefully when discussing comic books as literature, because to get the two intermingled, could cause comics to lose all their major advantages against your basic novel. There are certainly methods and aspects that comics have over the purely written language, but it seems more-often-than-not that these aspects tend to get comics dismissed as nothing more than picture books for older kids (and adults). This, however, is an error of the most grievous kind, as many of those “picture books” are drawn by artists (as art), not simple cartoonists or caricaturists. These are bona fide paintbrush-to-canvas type artists. Certainly to dismiss the Mona Lisa as childish because it is visual (just like a three year-old’s crayoned pony) would be a disgrace. As such, is seeing the fact that the comic medium is childish only because it uses graphical displays. One could easily argue that art and comics are very similar formats. They both tell a story using imagery. The difference being that comic books give you a more obvious interpretation with the addition of language. Granted, this does not mean there are not poorly done comics, with awful graphics, and just the same, there is poor artwork.
Unfortunately, as to our ultimate question of the respect of the comic book format, I do not believe we will have an answer anytime soon. Should it be as respected as the general written or art mediums? I would certainly argue as such, but that does not mean it is. I believe it will invariably fall into the same situation that Watchmen as literature did in Meskin’s piece, in that it will depend on the appreciation of the general populace. Obviously, someone at Marvel respects the medium as a viable format, or they would not have printed Pride and Prejudice, but I would not hold my breath waiting on comic adaptations of Sense and Sensibility, or Little Women.