Dracula – The Graphic Novel
By Bram Stoker, adapted by Jason Cobley and Staz Johnson
“They may come across as worthy reads to this reviewer but to children in their teens, turned off by the complex, exaggerated, theatrical language of Shakespeare I can see these full colour, well illustrated graphic novels being a very attractive alternative and a wonderfully exciting breath of fresh air.”
And that’s been proven to me several times this past year, as the Shakespeare graphic novels found their way into the school library to be eagerly read and enjoyed by several of the great readers in Year 6. Noticeably though, the children gravitate towards the Quick Text versions – sufficiently fast paced and succinct to give them a good read without bogging them down.
But what I have here is the original version of Stoker’s classic. A classic I first read as a young teen, and loved for the originality of his idea, and the creeping, oncoming horror that works its way into your head far slower and effectively than any of the Dracula movies I’d seen by that stage. Reading it here sent me back to that first experience, of a novel that chilled, that thrilled, that genuinely scared me so much I couldn’t tear myself away.
And reading it all over again, in this abridged form that utilises Stoker’s original words, I had a real sense of all the excitement of that first reading.
Or at least it did after a little perseverance. Because that first section of the book, maybe 30 odd pages, is really heavy going – as though Stoker’s words were doing battle with the adaptation itself and I found myself reading the words with scant attention to the artwork at times. There’s simply too much here, too much on the page, too much to properly construct a symbiosis of words and pictures.
BUT BUT BUT – crucially, it’s only the first section. Once that’s over and done with it’s as if a lightness descends on this darkest of tales, with Cobley relaxing and settling into a far more confident flow.
And once that happens Johnson’s artwork becomes far more integral to the adaptation, and everything settles down to a much more enjoyable read. There’s a far better sense of flow, of integration of words and pictures and we’re presented with many pages of lovely layouts, although there is a feeling that Johnson’s art, with a strong US comics style, is eminently more suited to the action sequences than the slow, creeping horror of what is actually a rather slow moving tale.
Here are just a couple of highlights, where Johnson really makes those ages work – such as this montage where writer and artist combine beautifully to summarise Dracula’s journey to Whitby, as the doomed ship he sailed on comes to port:
Or this piece, with Renfield detailing his meeting with his master:
So yes, once over that initial trouble, this had most of what I was after with an adaptation of Dracula. It certainly manages to get across everything I remember so vividly from the novel, and that is always a sure sign of the success of an adaptation of a work I’d previously read and enjoyed.
Overall, without having seen the Quick Text version, I do have a sneaking suspicion that I’d have had far fewer problems with this in that format, and sense the words and pictures would fit far more comfortably throughout. As it is, this original version is a flawed yet fulfilling adaptation of a book you really should read at some point in your lives.