Graphic Classics #9: Robert Louis Stevenson
by Tom Pomplun, various artists (Eureka, 2004)

The most interesting thing about this edition of Graphic Classics is that editor Tom Pomplun stretches the boundaries and scope of visually retelling the works of a famed author. Instead of merely cutting and pasting a graphic retelling of one Robert Louis Stevenson story after another, we are treated to a baker's dozen of interpretations based on Stevenson's shorter works as well as anecdotal stories recounting the effect of his Treasure Island upon famed cartoonist Robert Crumb's childhood.

That's not to say the more straightforward tales are lacking by any means at all. "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde" is an absolute pleasure to read, especially with the distinctly different storytelling methods for each half of the story. Simon Gane expertly tackles the narrative via comic panels for the first part, while in the second part Michael Slack (also the cover artist) takes a visually drastic and effective turn with illustrations accompanying Henry Jekyll's written confession.

Two other somewhat popular tales are also included: "The Bottle Imp" and "The Suicide Club." "The Suicide Club" and the astounding art by Pedro Lopez may be the real stars of the book. Lopez captures the pacing of the story and its dramatic tension so well. And the selective use of backgrounds brings the focus upon the key figures at the necessary time. "The Bottle Imp" is a delightful morality tale about the price of getting what you want with especially charming art by Lance Tooks. The story is seamlessly told in a contemporary setting, as well as in a visually daring manner -- the text intertwines throughout the story; however, the effect is successful and provides a symbiotic relationship between the text and the imagery.

While the big stories may bring in more readers, I think the short pieces and lesser-known writings will encourage multiple readings. Entries such as "The Whole Duty of Children" offer child-rearing advice via Dennis the Menace, of sorts; or why aliens would be staunch environmentalists in "The Distinguished Stranger." Michael Manning's seductive imagery sensationalizes the sultry subtleties of "Now Bare to the Beholder's Eye." (It makes one wonder if Stevenson were alive today, would he be writing to Penthouse Letters?) Mort Castle and Chad Carpenter recount the author's biography via a cacophony of pop culture icons.

"The Nixie" by Fannie Van de Graft Stevenson was probably included with the best of intentions, but it takes up space that would have been better filled with another story by Robert. No offense intended to the illustrations by Socar Myles -- those three full-page images are the only valuable aspects of this entry. Despite having such beautiful images accompanying "The Nixie," the story takes an unfortunately meandering pace, with no purpose or destination, and shows why Stevenson's wife isn't a well-known writer.

Graphic Classics: Robert Louis Stevenson reaffirms what versatility, imagination and talent Stevenson had throughout his career. And it bears mentioning again: kudos to Tom Pomplun for selecting such a broad range of the author's stories and for finding such an equally broad stable of artists and illustrators to meet the breadth of story subjects. This volume is certainly worth not just one reading, but several more.

review by
C. Nathan Coyle

8 December 2007

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