Austen, Jane. Adapted by Nancy Butler and Sonny Liew. Sense and Sensibility. New York: Marvel Worldwide, 2011. ISBN 9780785148203
Butler’s and Liew’s adaptation of Sense and Sensibility works very hard to keep the authenticity and complexity of the original alive. In her introduction, Butler admits it was challenging taking a novel that was mainly told in letters and narrative and putting it in an acceptable format for a graphic novel. In her own words the original novel was “Not the optimum source material for a graphic novel, let me tell you.” (p.2) Yet despite her apparent struggle, I think she succeeded.
Liew’s artwork brings the characters to life in a different way. There is often something going on in the background (or there is no background if the mood calls for that) that enhances or affirms the main story. In most panels, his characters are reminiscent of political cartoons or caricatures. In a few shots he shortens the characters considerably (making them all the same height with similar body shape). These are usually the “wide angle” shots where there is a lot of background or a lot going on in the background. By making the characters more simplistic, he guarantees they stand out from his highly detailed backgrounds.
The story itself is Jane Austen’s. It is the story of sisters who are nothing alike, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Elinor, the older sister, is cool and detached outwardly (she loves sense), but greatly cares for her family (and love interest) and their wellbeing. Marianne is all about feelings, emotions, passions, and frankness (in short, she values sensibility). While she occasionally talks sensibly without realizing it, she is more likely to speak exactly as she thinks and feels, even if polite society says she should do otherwise. In fact, the only exception to Marianne’s openness is when it involves things that may harm her family, whether that is how much she is in love or revealing who her older sister loves.
This graphic novel appeals to teens on two levels. For those who already like Jane Austin or classic literature, it is an interesting interpretation (and allows the reader to see the characters). For those who do not like classic literature and have to read it anyway, it is a relatively painless introduction. While the book is still complex, like the original, the fact that each character has their own distinct look makes it a bit easier to keep up. This would be a fun alternative in the classroom for upper level English where teens are already used to reading classic novels.
Booklist—“The story unfolds almost entirely in dialogue (whereas Austen’s original was carried largely by letters exchanged), and Liew’s artwork is fully colored in soft and luminescent period hues, and his figures have a nearly bobble-headed tininess that makes them a welcome fit in antique parlors. Butler’s introduction is wise, and the story’s vocabulary and syntax are gently updated to make for smooth reading by those unfamiliar with Austen.”
Goldsmith, Francisca. Booklist. Feb. 2011. (Vol. 107, No. 12) Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=0&isbn=9780785148197