This ran in TCJ a while back. Darcy’s one of my favorite comics creators; I should try to write more about her at some point.

Illustrated Classics

The folks at Penguin books have been thinking up some interesting ways in which to take advantage of comics’ increased literary credibility. First there were the Penguin Graphic Classics, a series featuring famous novels with cover designs by Chris Ware, Seth, and other iconic artists. And now, under its Viking imprint, Penguin is bankrolling an even more ambitious project — an Illustrated Classics series, in which each volume includes a full complement of spot illustrations and color plates by a particular comics artist.

For the first entries in this series, Viking has rolled out two Gothic warhorses, *Dracula* and *Jane Eyre* — a canny decision given the success of goth comics. Viking’s also moved a bit afield from the strictly high-brow Raw mafia. For Dracula, they’ve chosen Jae Lee, a mainstream artist with wicked skills. His compositions are lovely, and the slick, airbrushed finish of his color plates work well in this setting — Dracula’s basically a Victorian exploitation flick, after all. But though the pictures are pretty, they’re marred by a curious tentativeness. Where’s the blood? The fangs? Why are the vampire wives just standing there like clothes-horses? Lee doesn’t even bother to draw the most startling image in the book: the moment when Dracula crawls head-first down the side of his castle. Restraint can be fine and all, but, it’s not what Dracula is about. Thus, though the project isn’t a disaster, it doesn’t really stand up to the great film visuals of the legend. Even Coppola’s 1992 film seems more fully realized, to say nothing of Nosferatu.

Dame Darcy, on the other hand, was born to illustrate Jane Eyre. Her stylized, twisted bodies perfectly capture the novel’s air of choked and stifled passion. The book is filled with great drawings, but I think my favorite is an illustration in which Jane kneels before Rochester, who is cross-dressing as a gypsy. His hand is inches from her face, her giant almond eyes seem frozen, as does the fire behind her. A mermaid tschotskes sits almost mockingly on the mantel above her head. The whole image throbs with mystery, unhealthy dominance, and repressed sex. It’s as masterful as one of Berni Wrightson’s classic drawings for Frankenstein — and I can’t think of higher praise. In an online interview, Darcy said she’d like to try *Wuthering Heights* next. Hopefully Viking will continue to demonstrate its good taste by paying her to do so.

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