The Picture Of Dorian Gray
Published by Self Made Hero.
This is the second adaptation of Dorian Gray I’ve read in 2009. The first was in the anthology Graphic Classics and suffered greatly from being condensed into 40 something pages. This Dorian Gray, with 124 pages, is finally doing justice to one of my favourite books which, like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, is one of those books that everyone thinks they know. But they only know the basic skeleton of the plot and just like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, that brief plot is but the merest fraction of the story of beautiful, young Dorian Gray, who, flushed with the praise of his older friends and the idea that the only things worthwhile in life are to be young, beautiful and forever in pursuit of happiness, makes a foolhardy Faustian wish to remain forever young and beautiful whilst the picture grows old:
(The moment of the unveiling of the picture and also the moment that Dorian’s soul is forever lost – from The Picture Of Dorian Grey.)
That Dorian Gray’s wish comes true and his every sin is cast not upon his own beautiful visage but inflicted upon an increasingly grotesque portrait is the part that everyone knows. But the actual details of Dorian’s fall into casual hedonism, cruelty and eventual self-serving murderous actions is the real gothic core of the book. And the motivations of the main characters that send Dorian down this path are the reason that The Picture Of Dorian Gray was so very shocking when it was released in 1890.
(An older Dorian revisits the picture, now hideously disfigured with the sins of Gray’s life. Art by Ian Culbard.)
To fully appreciate The Picture Of Dorian Gray, one must imagine the controversy that surrounded the book on it’s publication. It’s themes of decadence and the homoerotic overtones running throughout the book not only shocked Victorian society but also pointed towards Oscar Wilde’s own lifestyle of the time. Indeed Wilde has written that he considers all three main characters to be aspects of his own character; Basil Hallward, the painter of the picture who becomes so infatuated with Dorian, Lord Henry Wooten who, in espousing his witty viewpoint of hedonistic lifestyle is the corrupting influence on Dorian and poor Dorian himself; naive, impressionable young beauty who makes his pact and immediately finds himself tainted and sinful, bringing shame and death to those who dally with him. The transformation of young Dorian Gray from foppish, impressionable dandy to cynical hedonist and finally to depraved, manipulative murderer is by turns fascinating, chilling and still vaguely humorous, just as one would expect from a master wit as Wilde.
(Apologies for the size – but these two pages work perfectly well without the dialogue – illustrating both Edginton’s clever way to evoke a passage of time and Culbard’s excellent portrayal of the changing morality of Dorian Gray – from the young dreamer to the older man corrupted by his eternal youth – all captured in simple expression and body language.)
And Edginton’s adaptation of Wilde’s work succeeds in capturing every essential element of Wilde’s masterpiece and placing it square on the page for Culbard to illustrate. The adaptation leans heavily on Wilde’s words, making this a very wordy, very involved piece. But when those words are Oscar Wilde’s, and Edginton dutifully includes so many of Wilde’s deliberately controversial, barbed and witty aphorisms, the fact that The Picture Of Dorian Gray is a long and involving read is no bad thing at all.
As for Culbard’s visuals; they may seem too cartoony on first glance, but his stylings are absolutely exquisite, capable of handling brevity and wit on one page and chilling amorality on the next and there’s something in the way he captures facial expression that means he’s ideally suited to illustrating Wilde’s dark satire on Victorian values. The most obvious comparison to Culbard’s art is that of Edginton’s frequent collaborator; D’Israeli. But it’s not meant as a criticism, merely a compliment, as Culbard and D’Israeli are both fine, fine artists.
(More of Ian Culbard’s lovely visuals. This is my favourite page, indeed – that second panel may be my favourite piece of art in the book. Somethig so perfect about the way Culbard captures so much in the graceful sweep of Dorian Gray’s body as he turns his back on the hideous visage of the painting.)
It’s a brilliant adaptation, retaining all the wonder of Oscar Wilde’s text and portraying the story in a fresh and new fashion. An excellent read.
The Picture Of Dorian Gray is just one of Self Made Hero’s Eye Classics and Edginton and Culbard return to a classic of Victorian literature for Self Made Hero very soon with The Hound Of The Baskervilles, the first in a proposed series of Sherlock Holmes adaptations. Based on the strength of their partnership here on the excellent Picture Of Dorian Gray, I really can’t wait to see that one.