Classical Comics: The Tempest

Published On December 14, 2009 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Reviews

The Tempest

by William Shakespeare, script adaptation by John McDonald, art by Jon Haward

Classical Comics

TempestCover_Orig TempestCover_Plain TempestCover_Quick

(Covers to The Tempest – from left to right; Original Text, Plain Text, Quick Text.)

A while ago, I looked at Classical Comics’ Romeo & Juliet and found it a little uninspiring for my tastes. Which was a shame as the entire ethos of the line; taking classic stories from Shakespeare away from their image as stuffy, dull texts that you struggle through in school and making them appealing to a graphically literate audience is a great thing.

But I thought that The Tempest was much better, much more enjoyable and far more engaging than the Romeo & Juliet adaptation, possibly due to my relative unfamiliarity with the story and possibly because the fantastical and magical elements in The Tempest came across far better in a graphic novel adaptation than the love affair in Romeo & Juliet.

However, it still suffers, albeit less so than Romeo & Juliet, from the problem of attempting to create three adaptations in one. Classical Comics adapts the book using one set of artwork but three different versions of the text; the Original Text of Shakespeare’s play in full, a Plain Text version that translates the story verse for verse into plain English and the Quick Text version, a simplified text aimed at reluctant readers and children. It’s a great idea for literacy and I’m sure allows readers at all levels to engage with the book, but altering the text without altering the art means that the art finds it difficult to be a good fit for all three versions and, just as with Romeo & Juliet, the original text suffers – too much text swamps the artwork and slows the reading down far too much. However, since The Tempest was a far more engaging adaptation, it proved much less noticeable this time around.

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(Jon Haward’s art – more suited to the fantastical events of the story than the more sedate, character driven scenes. But his dynamic stuff is very impressive; such as this of Ariel flying through the storm encouraging all aboard to abandon ship. From Classical Comics The Tempest.)

Again, I’ll presume we all know the tale: Prospero, the rightful Duke Of Milan, decides to study the dark arts instead of politics and allows his brother Antonio to rule the city as Duke. Antonio, forgetting his place and eager to fall in with the King of Naples, usurps his brother’s title and position, and has Prospero and his daughter Miranda taken out to sea and left to fend for themselves in a tiny boat. Years later, the King of Naples and his entourage, including Antonio are caught up in a terrible storm and, thinking they are to be shipwrecked, make for a nearby island. Little do they know that the island is Prospero’s kingdom, and his magics and control over the magical creatures of the island are what brought the King and his party to the island. Prospero is out for revenge.

One strange aspect of it which tickled me on first reading is that Prospero, drawn as he is by Haward in flowing, multi-coloured robes and with a tendency to adopt super-magician poses as he throws his magics about, rather reminds me of Dr Strange, the Marvel comics Sorcerer Supreme. Not important perhaps, but it made me smile when I saw panels like this:

tempest 1

(Prospero, Sorcerer Supreme? Or is that just me? From The Tempest, art by Jon Haward. Published Classical Comics.)

But once the giggling over Prospero died down I found myself really enjoying this adaptation. Starting with the original text was, as I said before, possibly a mistake as both Plain Text and Quick Text flow and read a lot better – the pacing of both keeps up with the artwork, whereas with the Original Text version it takes far, far longer to absorb the words than the artwork really allows and the clash of pacing between words and pictures is distracting. But with all three versions there’s a better feel, and far less of that feeling of holding something wonderfully worthy but relatively unsatisfying.

The artwork, all very colourful and dynamic, suits this magical fantasy tale well and Haward’s art holds up pretty well throughout. There’s sometimes a stiffness in his figures when called to detail some of the less eventful panels, where it’s all a bit too posed and static, but they’re relatively rare here. His work is strongest in the more action packed first part of the story, with some particularly impressive artwork surrounding the fateful storm that brings Prospero’s intended victims to his island.

Classical Comics version of The Tempest is far better, far more suited to the graphic novel form than Romeo & Juliet. However, the entire Classical Comics line exists as a wonderful exercise in encouraging new readers to fully experience the wonders of Shakespeare’s words. And as such, we should be applauding it loudly.

Richard Bruton.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton

– Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he’s written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard’s day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children’s graphic novel library in the country.

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