Graphic Classics: Mark Twain
by Mark Twain
Cover Artist: George Settas (front), Kevin Atkinson (back)
Review by Sam Lubell
Eureka Productions Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780978791926
Date: 01 November 2007 List Price $11.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
This 144-page book is a collection of black-and-white graphic adaptations of several works by Mark Twain. Each is done by a different artist, in a different style, but using much of Twain's original language. Most, but not all, of the stories are illustrated as comics, complete with speech bubbles.
The cover is devoted to the collection's adaptation of Tom Sawyer Abroad, in which Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and ex-slave Jim have adventures on an airship attached to a giant balloon. This is probably the best-drawn piece in the book, with nicely shaded pictures that look like stills from an animated movie. The artist takes full advantage of the many exciting scenes in the book: Tom is almost thrown overboard by the mad professor, and the trio visit Africa and Egypt where they encounter lions, caravan robbers, a kidnapped child, and the Sphinx. And Twain's humor is here as well.
The other adapted novel is The Mysterious Stranger, which takes place in the Middle Ages in Austria. A group of boys encounter an angel named Satan (named for his better-known uncle before he fell) who interferes with the rivalry between Father Peter, the priest, and a powerful astrologer. As an angel, Satan is ignorant of sin, so he thinks nothing of destroying the miniature men he made to amuse the boys, making a man happy by causing him to go insane, and saving people from suffering by causing them to die.
This is fairly heavy-handed religious satire; Twain did not allow this book to be published in his lifetime. While the artist, who made the drawings look like medieval woodcuts, tries to keep things interesting, many of the pictures are people talking.
There are several short stories, including a nice adaptation of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," an odd version of "A Dog's Tale" as if presented by a low-budget family theater company so the visuals (frequently done as collages) did not match the text, a cartoony "The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut," and a blocky-looking "Is He Living or Is He Dead."
There are also mini-posters of different parts of Twain's "Advice to Little Girls" by several artists and "A Curious Pleasure Excursion" drawn to look like 19th-century advertising. The many artistic styles in this anthology add variety and make it easy to distinguish one tale from another (although not all are equally successful).
There are several differences between the first and second edition of Graphic Classics. The first edition did not have Tom Sawyer Abroad, instead having "A Ghost Story," "How I Was Sold in Newark," and a couple of other pieces. I strongly recommend the second version as Tom Sawyer Abroad is probably the best thing in the book.
One has to wonder about the selection of mostly lesser-known works. Perhaps the editor was trying to avoid the novels most frequently assigned in school so students could not use the comic as a substitute for their homework in the original. Still, it's a pity that "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" was not adapted, as the confrontation between medieval knights and a 19th-century engineer seems ideal for a visual treatment.
Still, fans of Mark Twain and of comics would both enjoy this book and it seems fitting that America's best writer of comic fiction should have his fictions adapted as comics.