Seth T.'s Reviews > Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice by Nancy Butler
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Apr 04, 2012

did not like it
bookshelves: comics

Marvel's Pride & Prejudice by Nancy Butler and Hugo Petrus
[Never more awkward than when you accidentally walk in on the book's one moment free from alternating monologues.]

Of Jane Austen's works, perhaps the most difficult to satisfyingly adapt is Pride & Prejudice. It's proven itself so through several lackluster film versions (the only one that represents the book well enough is the 1995 BBC adaptation—and that only succeeds because its leisurely five-hour runtime allows it to indulge in more characters and more plot directions). The other viable conversion is the 1940 adaptation—its chief strength lies in its creators' ability to shear from the source novel with liberality. The problem with Pride & Prejudice, it seems, is that Austen crafted a story that is just too complicated, steeped in nuance and characters and pivotal plot moments. When any of these are stripped away, the result is something other than Pride & Prejudice as Austen envisioned it.

And because the original novel is so well-loved, revision becomes blasphemy. Authors seeking to adapt generally either a) fall into the category of fans themselves or b) are at least well-enough aware of Austen's fans that they recognize any cut will be seen as betrayal. Where one of Austen's lesser works—say, Mansfield Park—could be filmed with a certain liberality and only Austen's most ardent admirers would care, Pride & Prejudice is another matter. So you have clipped, confusing products like 2005's Keira Knightley adaptation that rushes to its finish, packing in every plot point possible yet never allowing the viewer a chance to catch up. For a graphic novel version of the book to succeed then, it must either offer a sturdy page-count or be willing to refashion Austen's story to better suit a more diminutive length.

Unfortunately for Marvel's edition, writer Nancy Butler proves herself unequal the task of adapting Pride & Prejudice, following after the lack of pruning that made Keira Knightley's version such a wreck. This is no big surprise, really. As mentioned earlier, the book seems ridiculously hard to bring into other mediums. Add to that the fact that Butler is a prose novelist as yet untried as a comics scribe. Predictably, she leans too heavily on her words (or Austen's words if you want to be like that). Panels are filled with walls of text, desperate to get out the requisite information before the book's finale—which comes way too fast. As Butler's version speeds to its conclusion, we have all the dry information we need to ascertain what just happened,* but we haven't been given the room to process it. And more than that, we haven't seen the characters develop in any ways not directly associated with their words.

Which brings us to Hugo Petrus' art.

Even had Butler's writing left plenty of room to make use of the visual storytelling unique to the comics medium, this adaptation would still be roundly considered a failure. The art, apart from being actively bad, is so great a mismatch to the book's content that one wonders how on earth this casting decision was ever made. Petrus' style, even if it was well-done (it wasn't), tries to turn Austen's Eighteen-Aughts romance into a sleek, sexy soap operatic mess. Here, look at the introduction of the Bennet Five:

Marvel's Pride & Prejudice by Nancy Butler and Hugo Petrus
[Hi, I'm Larry. These are my sisters Herp and Derp and my other sisters Herp and Derp]

Let's forget for a moment that Lizzy looks like she's just polished off a mug of vodka and that Kitty is gazing wild-eyed into the hole in the back of Lydia's head. This looks like the cast of an awful sitcom about five women who co-own a design firm and have wacky, wacky adventures with clients whose requirements they aren't really able to meet but still continue running their business because the show would end otherwise. And apart from their collars, it could probably be set in a period as recent as last year (though one of them would have to have shorter hair, maybe). They're even wearing lipstick and doing the whole pouty-lip/duckface thing.

The real tragedy is that for months before the book came out, Marvel teased Pride & Prejudice covers. These are what we saw before the book came out:

Marvel's Pride & Prejudice by Nancy Butler and Hugo Petrus
[Seriously, aren't Elizabeth and Darcy just TOO adorable here? (click to enbiggen)]

They were fantastic-looking. (I mean, apart from the faux-Cosmo text thrown up all over.) The illustrations by Sonny Liew were completely adorable. That was an Elizabeth Bennet that I wanted to read about—even if the writing was only so-so, Liew's art sold me on the series, easy. An artist who could create such a winning Elizabeth and Darcy was easily worth my attention. If you hadn't figured it out already, allow me to point out: Sonny Liew is not Hugo Petrus and Sonny Liew's only contribution to the book is cover art. This is why some readers get upset when the art featured on a book's cover does not at all resemble the art in the book's interior. Even though this is pretty common practice, it stinks of false advertising.

So, Jane Austen gets stuck with Petrus, who (at least in this volume) seems incapable of matching character art with what is going on in the panel. Examples:

The Elizabeth who has shown herself cynical enough to merrily jest about the folly of the class-conspicuous occupants of Netherfield suddenly appears dead inside, reacting to Jane's goodwill toward Bingley by being overwhelmed by the hopelessness of a world that will always beat down truth and beauty in every instance:

Marvel's Pride & Prejudice by Nancy Butler and Hugo Petrus
[Note: Jane is supposed to be playfully exasperated in this scene]

Mister Collins, buffoonish applicant to marital bliss with Miss Elizabeth Bennet, while talking of the girl's possible loss of income, decides to model Blue Steel for Mrs. Bennet:

Marvel's Pride & Prejudice by Nancy Butler and Hugo Petrus
[Personally, I prefer to lead with the tongue or teeth, but if lips is what you've got then lips is what you've got.]

Mr. Bennet takes off his glasses in time for the aneurism that will absolve him of any personal responsibility in steering his family in a manner that would guarantee Elizabeth's loss of both fortune and the bearing of Darcy's future-babies:

Marvel's Pride & Prejudice by Nancy Butler and Hugo Petrus
[Looks like Mr. Collins will be taking on the house at Meryton sooner than later]

Elizabeth, hearing of Mr. Darcy's devotion, happily bites her lip and squeezes out a fart:

Marvel's Pride & Prejudice by Nancy Butler and Hugo Petrus
[Suddenly Squirtle!]

You get the idea. The drawing style strangely shifts throughout, especially in the final chapter. He moves from the crisp (if badly chosen) linework at the book's start to something more thick-lined and chunky resembling Alex Maleev's work in Daredevil. While the later work is generally better, it's still a failure to take the job seriously (if not by Petrus himself, then at the least by his editor).

Marvel fumbled the ball badly with this adaptation. While one might question the purpose of adapting literary fiction to the comics form, I do happen to enjoy a well done transportation of a text from one medium to its new home in another. Pride & Prejudice squanders the goodwill set in place by Sonny Liew's covers and offers nothing of value to the reader. On the off chance that someone will read this adaptation before approaching Austen's novel, it's very possible that they will abandon the novel altogether. And that, of course, is a verifiable shame.

Marvel's Pride & Prejudice by Nancy Butler and Hugo Petrus

* Well, we probably have the information we need. As someone who's read Austen's novel four times, it's hard to approach this as someone who doesn't already know what's going to happen. I'm taking it on trust that it's all there and I'm not filling in plot holes with information I learned twenty years ago when I first read Pride & Prejudice.

[Review courtesy of Good Ok Bad]
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02/01/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Oh bugger. I kept looking at the really cool covers at the library. Alas.


message 2: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Wonderful review! Had me laughing a stitch into my side!

message 3: by Manny (new)

Manny Brilliant! The What's Up Tiger Lily of graphic Austen adaptation reviews!

message 4: by Seth (new) - rated it 1 star

Seth T. Ceridwen - If it makes you feel any better, Sonny Liew (who did the covers) does the art for Sense & Sensibility. While he leans more toward a cutesy/chibi vibe in S&S, the writing for that book improves a bit too, so it comes out actually being an alright adaptation.

Eh?Eh! and Manny - I'm glad my pain could be transformed into joy for others!

message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Oh, that's good to know. I keep considering these graphic adaptions, mostly wondering if any of them are worth it. I checked out a graphic version of Proust's In Search of Lost Time just because it seemed like such a ridiculous thing to adapt to graphic form, but then I never read it for the same reason. S&S seems like it might submit to adaption well, and I do dig what little art I've seen from Liew.

message 6: by Seth (new) - rated it 1 star

Seth T. Yeah, honestly, off the top of my head, I can't think of any very good adaptations of literature. They may be out there, but there's so much dross that it's hard to find the gold.

I think there are probably two big hurdles:

1) Companies that fund these adaptations tend to view them as making as much money with talented creators as they would without and so take the cheaper route, hiring creators who are acceptable but maybe not the best at understanding what can and can't be done with the medium. Which relates to...

2) Creators rely too much on the written narrative and dialogue from the source to propel their adaptations, forgetting the strength found in comics' visual techniques.

And as an unplanned third point:

3) The need to appease purists. Adaptations from lit to other forms never fair exceedingly well when they stick too rigidly to source. Fans may howl that you didn't include Tom Bombadil or Nearly Headless Nick's deathday party, but these people are more concerned with fidelity than with a good narrative product.

After some thought, here are three adaptations that may be worth your time:

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (by Shanower and Young) - still has some problems with the writing but the art is top notch—I actually can't imagine better art on the book.

The Ice Wanderer (by Jiro Taniguchi) - collection of shorts, one of which is a nice adaptation of a segment from London's White Fang

• Sherlock Holmes adaptations (by Edgington and Culbard) - I haven't read the source material, but the three adaptations I've read (Study in Scarlet, Sign of Four, and Hound of the Baskervilles) were all engaging enough (Scarlet and Four being the better two).

message 7: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! What do you think of this one?
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

I saw it at Powells once, used, $40, and kind of regret not getting it. It's been a long time since I read the book or watched the movie, but this seems perhaps to be a story that would be ideal for adaptation with all the swirling lines and fantastical. I still remember how beautiful your review of the book was, Ceridwen, and your husband's.

message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Oh, Holmes. I'm a huge fan of the Conan-Doyle stories, and given how often they seem to be successfully translated to film/tv, I'd bet they would work graphically too. The stories are so pulpy and televisual, even though this is an anachronistic thing to call them. Serial though, lots of action, visual detail. Plus, Conan-Doyle was super sloppy about continuity - like Watson having a war injury on his shoulder that moved magically to his leg or the other way around - so purists can be kept slightly at bay.

I think I've heard good things about The Last Unicorn adaption? Didn't Karen read it, or something? I might be thinking of something else. I know Beagle had a hand in the film adaption, which I think was quite good, once the goofy Rankin-ness has been accounted for.

message 9: by Manny (new)

Manny Ceridwen wrote: "Oh, that's good to know. I keep considering these graphic adaptions, mostly wondering if any of them are worth it. I checked out a graphic version of Proust's In Search of Lost Time just because it..."

I thought the graphic adaptation of Proust was pretty good, but maybe you need to have read the original first! You might want to give it a second chance, anyway...

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

No shit, really? I almost read them so I could bs like I'd read all seven volumes in a weekend. And see how long it would take to get tripped up in my own web of lies, but then that seemed both pointless and a ton of work. Not that that has stopped me before.

message 11: by Seth (new) - rated it 1 star

Seth T. I just pretend that having read 1Q84 is the same. Most people I know only know that Proust got name-dropped a lot on Gilmore Girls.

message 12: by Manny (new)

Manny I've only read the first two, but I liked them. They take all the language from the books - selected in a responsible way - also the artwork is very cute.

message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

Good to know, Manny. Thanks..

I just pretend to have read IQ84, in order to pretend I've read Proust. It is a scaffold of decption.

message 14: by Manny (last edited Apr 29, 2012 11:29PM) (new)

Manny It sounds delightfully complicated! Can you turn it into a short story?

message 15: by Seth (new) - rated it 1 star

Seth T. Which I will have already read having read this comment thread—which means I've read Proust.

message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

Make it kinda like Borges, because I've never read him either, and I would like to pretend I have.

message 17: by Will (new)

Will Shetterly In comics, when the cover and interior artist are different, they usually have the same sensibilities. This case is bizarre. The cover artist's work approach is far more cartoony, which works quite nicely, I agree.

A decent comics adaptation of P&P would have to be at least 300 pages long, and probably would have to be longer.

message 18: by Proxima (new)

Proxima Oh god, that picture of Lizzy biting her lips makes me cringe.
Seriously? Lizzy is not at all like that. Makes it a bit silly really.

message 19: by Proxima (new)

Proxima Oh god, that picture of Lizzy biting her lips makes me cringe.
Seriously? Lizzy is not at all like that. Makes it a bit silly really.

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