Propaganda: Graphic Classics Oscar Wilde – three out of four’s not bad.
When you think of Oscar Wilde, you don’t necessarily think of his work as being suitable for inclusion in the Graphic Classics series; surely his work isn’t going to sit well alongside horror, sci-fi, adventure, fantasy type volumes? But if you actually analyse his short stories and plays you’ll have to accept that Wilde was a master fantasist, capable of working in any number of genres yet using the work to tell us, and Victorian London, much about ourselves and the world we live(d) in. This volume of Graphic Classics is unlike the rest, as aside from a couple of illustrations, the volume has only four stories; all around the 30-40 page mark, Inside we have Wilde’s only novel: The Picture Of Dorian Gray, two short stories: The Canterville Ghost and Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime and his biblical play Salome.
So to start at the beginning: The Picture of Dorian Gray, a novel I adored when I read it many years ago; both for the simple conceit of the story and for the elegance and sheer exuberant beauty of Wilde’s words. So I was looking forward to reading the 40 odd page adaptation that opens the book, especially with what looked, at first glance as some really lovely art by Lisa K Weber.
Alas, it just doesn’t work as so much of the story and so much of the glory of Wilde’s words are lost that it ends up just being a series of dull panels loosely tied together, more reportage than actual prose and certainly nothing like the gorgeous Wildean prose. The plot is plodded out as a series of reported events; Dorian Gray has his portrait painted, wishes he could sell his soul to stay as perfect as his painted image forever, succumbs to a debauched life, freed of the responsibilities of his actions as his portrait takes on a terrifying decayed and corrupted visage. There’s none of the joy of language, none of the suspense, none of the horror on the comic page and it’s such a shame. And the art, although very attractive, just fails to get any sense of the Gothic horror that’s meant to be in the story. Another shame.
(From The Picture Of Dorian Gray from Graphic Classics; just not Gothic enough, not dark enough, not engrossing enough as Wilde’s prose.)
However, the first short story, The Canterville Ghost does much to repair the damage wrought by the adaptation of Dorian Gray. Antonella Caputo writes her adaptation in the comedic spirit of Wilde’s original, ably abetted by Nick Miller’s genuinely funny cartooning (reminiscent of the great Steve Parkhouse at times I thought) and they both manage to capture the feel of the original extremely well indeed. The very English ghost’s horror, disbelief, anger and eventual defeat at the refusal of these upstart Americans who have invaded his home to be even remotely scared is skillfully done and raised a series of smiles all the way through with Wilde’s comedy of Anglo-American manners and values perfectly summed up with the page beneath where the head of the American family deals with the English ghost:
(Nick Miller’s art from The Canterville Ghost)
Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime is another comedy, although a rather darker one, concerning Saville and a terrifying prediction that he will become a murderer at some point in his near future. Saville puts off his wedding to the love of his life and decides that, if he is to become a murderer, he may as well get it over and done with. What follows is a good, old fashioned Victorian farce, with Saville’s attempts to poison his Aunt Clem and then, when she inconveniently dies of natural causes, he seeks to blow up his Uncle. It’s handled quite brilliantly in comics form by Rich Rainey’s adaptation and Stan Shaw’s art; utilising a horizontal panel layout that sticks most effectively almost all the way through to just five panels a page. Yet where Dorian Gray was brutally truncated by having Wilde’s prose limited to very few panels, Rainey and Shaw do the opposite and have adapted it wonderfully well.
(Stan Shaw’s art from Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime, great comedy timing on the page.)
The book ends with Salomé, Wilde’s biblical tragedy, telling in one act the tale of beautiful Salome, stepdaughter of the Herod Antipas, who, after her advances are rejected, demands the head of Jokanaan (John the Baptist) as payment for dancing the Dance of the Seven Veils for her step-father Herod. It was never my favourite of Wilde’s works, and this does nothing to change my mind, but it is true to the spirit of the play, captures the vanity, jealousy and lust of the play extremely well and has some very nice artwork by Molly Kiely that sits somewhere between the original Aubrey Bearsley illustrations, P. Craig Russell and even Jaimie Hernandez in some of the uses of blacks on the page. Not a bad ending at all.
(Moral of the story – always check what her heart’s desire is before she dances. Art by Molly Kiely from Salome)
Graphic Classics: Oscar Wilde would be far better suited, to my mind, if it completely did away with The Picture Of Dorian Gray, as it does nothing but prove that Wilde’s glorious prose doesn’t suit the sort of brutal editing necessary to fit it into some 40 pages of comic story. But aside from that the rest of the book comes recommended.
Richard Bruton “has nothing to declare except his genius“