Saturday, July 21, 2012

Review: Sense and Sensibility -- The Graphic Novel

Sense and Sensibility, adapted from the novel by Jane Austen
By: Nancy Butler and Sonny Liew
Publisher: Marvel
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4820-3

About the book:

Two-time Rita Award-Winner Nancy Butler returns to Jane Austen's world, accompanied by internationally acclaimed artist Sonny Liew!

Marvel's adaptation of Pride & Prejudice spent 13 weeks on The New York Times Graphic NOvel Best-Seller List, and now comes the adaptation of Jane Austen's first novel. Published in 1811, it introduced readers to the world of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, two daughters without parents* or means, forced to experience hardship, romance and heartbreak -- all in the hopes of achieving love and lasting happiness.


Sense and Sensibility is the second of Jane Austen's novels to receive the graphic novel treatment from Marvel. Author Nancy Butler returns to adapt the text, while artist Sonny Liew brings the Dashwood sisters and their world to vibrant, colorful life. Where Butler's previous Austen graphic novel was a competently-executed adaptation of the source material, I felt my overall enjoyment of the book was hampered by the dark, bold tones of the illustrations. Happily no such issue exists with this version of Sense and Sensibility. Liew's whimsical, fanciful drawings contain all off the period detail one could wish for while possessing a light touch that enhances Austen's story. The softer color palette is easily adjusted to suit both Elinor's outward tranquility and in an instant, alter to complement one of Marianne's passionate displays of temper. Liew uses chibi figures throughout to artfully exaggerate the humor found in certain key scenes, supporting Austen's aim of illustrating the ridiculousness of individuals such as Fanny and John Dashwood and their penny-pinching ways. Throughout, each character is uniquely and gorgeously-rendered on the page. This is an attractive volume that retains, in large part thanks to the lyrical illustrations, the humor, pathos, and romance of Austen's original novel.

My one qualm with this adaptation relates to the manner in which Butler elected to translate key scenes to the page. She does a creditable job once again of retaining the flavor of Austen's text, but as she points out in her introduction, Sense and Sensibility was originally largely epistolary and narrative-heavy, a drawback when crafting a graphic novel version. In most cases, visual and textual renderings of events only hinted at in the novel are created on the page in a manner faithful to the story's spirit, striving to remain in-line with the author's intent. But in some cases, such as when Willoughby pleads his case to Elinor, so many panels are given to relating that event that a key turning point moment, such as Marianne's illness, receives the short shrift. That "balancing" issue aside, this is a lovely volume and a fine introduction to Austen's classic tale of the trials and tribulations of two very different sisters.

Sample panel:

*Clearly whoever wrote the back cover copy for this volume never read the book, or they wouldn't act as though poor Mrs. Dashwood was dead. :P


Bookworm1858 said...

A. Did not know that there was a Sense and Sensibility graphic novel-must buy!

B. Love the inclusion of chibi figures-I think that style is so cute and I can't wait to see it!

Thanks for alerting me to this.

Ruth said...

@Bookworm1858 - You're welcome, enjoy! :)