Death to the bard
Graphic novel reimagines Shakespeare's characters
In Conor McCreery’s mind’s eye, whenever a writer reconstructs the Shakespearean universe, there’s bound to be double, double, toil and trouble.
The Leslieviller, and co-author of the 12-issue graphic novel Kill Shakespeare, knows that fans of the famous bard’s work are pernickety about how his works are adapted into modern mediums.
“As soon as you step into play with Shakespeare, you have to know that’s going strike at a very dear spot for some people,” he said. “To some people Shakespeare is so incredibly important and it has to be done in a certain way.
“They’re not wrong, but that’s just not what we like doing.”
What McCreery, along with co-author Anthony Del Col, artist Andy Belanger and colourist Ian Herring have done is create a stage where all Shakespeare’s men and women are their players.
That means popular characters like Romeo, Juliet, Hamlet, Iago, Richard III, Lady Macbeth, Falstaff and Othello play key roles.
“I think one of things when taking on a project likes this, with pre-existing characters, you’ve got either two ways to go,” McCreery said. “You either keep them faithful to whom they were or you’re going to find a plausible way to change them.”
Juliet was one such example of tweaking Shakespeare’s original tale.
“We found a new backstory — a slight change in her past,” he said. “Before she was able to kill herself, the family did get there in time.
“Because of that she was able to grow up and deal with the loss of Romeo,” he added. “This was what drove this woman to be about a cause, because in her mind she had been selfish in her youth and it cost the life of Romeo.”
The only rule, with the exception of Richard III, is to avoid characters from Shakespeare’s historical plays like Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra.
But there are opportunities to take the traditionally dark characters from Shakespeare’s pantheon and make them break their morose malaise.
“One of the big moments in issue 10, which was one of Anthony’s best issues was the scene where we finally see Othello laugh a little bit with Hamlet,” McCreery said. “We get both of the gloomy characters having fun with each other, poking fun at their reputation for being stoic.”
Kill Shakespeare is not without its harsh criticism, as Shakespearean scholar Kimberly Cox made her thoughts on the Canadian series, spawned six years ago, known.
“The criticism was fairly vitriolic from her because it was fairly general — the biggest thing was we didn’t use iambic pentameter,” he said. “It probably would have been tougher to read if she had a good point-by-point ‘Here’s what you did wrong’.”
Still, McCreery and Del Col’s work has received more checks of the quill than crumpled up quires, adding Toronto’s reputation of being one of North America’s hubs for comic book talent is growing.
But in the din of the city’s creative body, all the work of graphic novelists alike will not sweeten their reputation.
“Toronto is an incredible hotbed. It’s probably on par with New York as one of the most successful comics towns in the world,” McCreery said. “It always frustrates me a little bit, especially here in Canada where we do such a good job of bemoaning our lack of world leaders, that we actually have, quietly in our midst, a golden age of talent that may never be seen again.
“Part of it is because of the prejudice against the medium itself.”
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