I confess Shakespeare was never easy for me.
I’m a first generation Canadian, neither of my parents are native speakers of the English language and Shakespeare was never a part of our family life.
In high school English we studied Macbeth but only the graphic, black & white images from the Polanski film our teacher boldly screened for the class truly captured my imagination.
The film was gruesome, so much so that Pauline Kael Kael suggested Polanski staged the bloody slaughter of Macduff’s wife and children as a deliberate evocation of the Manson murders.
It wasn’t until I was accepted into the John Abbott College Theatre program, in Montreal, that I realized I was different from my peers, many of whom had memorized their favourite scenes and soliloquies.
I, on the other hand, had memorized various jokes from the Flip Wilson comedy album that my father enjoyed when he wasn’t listening to Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass.
Inspired by my personal Shakespeare deficiency I introduced my son Cole to “Romeo and Juliet” by reading him a graphic novel adaptation.
He was 8 years old and he loved it. His favourite character was Mercutio.
I followed it up with “Hamlet.” He enjoyed “Hamlet” even more and I’ll never forget the moment when I completed the story and he spoke the words “Daddy can you read “Hamlet” again please,” demanding that I immediately start from the beginning.
The graphic novels were a perfect prelude to attending a performance of the play at the Stratford Festival.
This year we are seeing “Macbeth,” as well as reading Cole the graphic novel, we enjoyed Mya Gosling’s “Macbeth in 3 Panels.”
Mya also published a comprehensive scene-by-scene retelling of Macbeth here.
Don’t miss Mya’s eclectic collection of mostly Shakespeare-related comics and publications at Good Tickle Brain.
Mya will be appearing soon on my podcast “The Inadequate Life.”
Getting back to graphic novels, I asked a former student of mine, who is also a freelance writer with an interest in graphic novels, to look at the publication we’ve been reading.
Below is Emily Stewart’s take on “Macbeth” from the publisher SelfMadeHero.
Incidentally I purchased the graphic novels from The Stratford Festival gift shop. They have an excellent selection and they deliver.
by Emily Stewart
If you’re craving a different way to experience William Shakespeare, Manga, a style of comics originating from Japan, is a perfect choice.
The independent UK book publisher SelfMadeHero is well known for their Manga Shakespeare series, which bring unique graphic novels to the table.
“Macbeth,” is adapted by Richard Appignanesi and illustrated by Robert Deas who sets the story in a post-apocalyptic world populated by Samurai warriors.
*Spoiler Alert* This article shows the last page of the book.
After the characters are introduced, the three witches are seen amid collapsed buildings. The stormy weather and defeated warriors illustrate the despair.
As with the “Romeo and Juliet” version, this Manga Shakespeare uses iconography from Japanese culture. The characters in Deas’ world use Japanese weapons such as katana blades and ninja stars rather than daggers.
Deas also draws blood and gore to depict the vileness of the tragic play. After Macbeth kills King Duncan, there is a panel showing the blood on his hands.
This tragedy’s end is always a challenge to portray in a meaningful way. In Deas’ illustration Macduff is holding not one but two severed heads.
Praise for Manga Shakespeare
The writer behind the blog The Furious Cavalier praises the Manga Shakespeare series for being “fun and easy to read”. The Furious Cavalier also called the series “a useful cheat sheet, bridging the gap between text and performance”.
Becky’s Book Review enjoyed the Manga Shakespeare version of “Macbeth”. “Everything that is memorable and important from Shakespeare’s original play is presented within the book,” she said. “I love that the language is all Shakespeare. I love that the text becomes more accessible because of the format.”
Puffin Graphics, Penguin, and Classical Comics also have graphic novel versions of “Macbeth”. All three companies also have graphic novel adaptations of classic novels such as “Jane Eyre” (Classical Comics), and “Black Beauty.” (Puffin Graphics)
Macbeth at Stratford
Read the reviews of Stratford’s 2016 “Macbeth”, or post your own on Stratford Festival Reviews.
Visit here for more information on “Macbeth” at the Stratford Festival. Only a handful of performances remain.