This week we’re running a series of replies to a piece Eddie Campbell ran in The Comics Journal. Eddie Campbell himself was kind enough to post an interesting series of replies in comments. I thought I’d highlight them below…so here’s Campbell’s further thoughts on the literaries.
Jaelinque wrote: “The original Campbell’s piece is perplexing. Or am I the only one seeing confusion between ‘literary quality’ and complexity/sophistication of the plot there? As if a ‘literary’ element of a work of art equals the retelling of its plot. This… is not how literature works. True, you can’t explain the value of Casablanca by its plot, but it’s not like you can do it for Anna Karenina either.”
You are very right. A couple of years back I was asked to write a blurb for Nicki Greenberg’s comics adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I wrote succinctly about the ways in which Nicki’s cartoons added to, enhanced and decorated the original, to the best of my ability. When I later saw a dummy of the book I was surprised to see that my blurb had been replaced by a plot summary. I got on the phone and argued the matter, saying you wouldn’t put a plot summary on the back of Shakespeare’s Shakespeare, why are you doing it on the back of Greenberg’s? In the end my original blurb was reinstated in an edited form.
A quick check on the internet shows that they are back to using the plot summary:
“Denmark is in turmoil. The palace is seething with treachery, suspicion and intrigue. On a mission to avenge his father’s murder, Prince Hamlet tries to claw free of the moral decay all around him. But in the ever-deepening nest of plots, of plays within plays, nothing is what it seems. Doubt and betrayal torment the Prince until he is propelled into a spiral of unstoppable violence.”
You are right to say this is not how literature should work. But a book publisher seems to think it’s how comics should work. Is this a depressing sign of the times, or a depressing sign of the relative esteem in which comics are held?
In that online ad for the book, there is little about it being Nicki Greenberg’s graphic rendition of the play. It is presented as though it was, not even just the words, but just the plot, which is less than everything. Anybody with half a brain can get the plot in an instant google. The space allotted to that summary is surely wasted. It should have been a clever lure, if not mine then somebody else’s. Or am I overestimating ordinary people?
Before anybody goes making stuff up again, my original blurb went like this (from the back of the book, as finally published):
“The finest thing about Shakespearean drama is that the work can be restaged for every generation and in so many different ways. In Nicki Greenberg’s version, Hamlet is played by an inkblot with a crowquill in his scabbard. The settings sparkle; the interior of the castle has a decor of suspended clock parts, curious only until we realise that “time is out of joint.” Polonius pops in and out of a sheet of paper as he reads Hamlet’s letter to Ophelia, and Ophelia walks us physically through the botanicals so we don’t need opera glasses to follow the symbolism of the flowers. Greenberg’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby was entirely in monochrome and it’s exciting this time around to see her unpack a palette of riotous colour.”
I didn’t think of it at the time, but this is a precise example of my original argument. Book publisher doesn’t quite get comics and wants to replace apt description of the work, from an artist and former self-publisher of comics, with a potted plot summary. And we’re talking about Hamlet.
From Nicki Greenberg’s Hamlet (more images here.