I tend to be wary of novels being adapted into graphic form. Not all prose lend themselves well to visual media like comics and film, and a lot can be lost in translation. Bad art can also be detrimental to an otherwise great story. So when I was told that my next review is going to be for a graphic novel adaptation of Brave New World, I wasn’t exactly thrilled at first.
How many goodly creatures are there here!
Published in 1932, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is set in a near-future utopian London where humans are grown instead of conceived, then conditioned into castes. The concept of parentage and families are antiquated, sex (“everyone belongs to everyone!”) and drugs (“a gram in time saves nine!”) are the way of life, and entertainment consists mostly of “feelies,” or holographic movies with tactile sensory input. People who live outside this utopia are considered savages. When one such savage is taken to this civilized utopia…
How beauteous mankind is!
…I’m not going to spoil the book, despite its 90-year vintage. Instead, let’s talk about the art. My most common misgivings about graphic novel adaptations is that they’re often drawn by someone who either didn’t read the material, and is probably just using the project as a stepping stone. Fred Fordham, the book’s artist, is neither. This is his third time adapting a literary classic after Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby.
Fred Fordham’s art in this book reminds me of modern “Euro-style” artists like Mikel Janin (Batman, Grayson) and Milo Manara (Gullivera, The Sandman: Endless Nights), and his style actually worked with the story. His portrayal of London has a clean-but-not-too-clean look that indicates attention to detail. He also wrote the script, and it’s great how he shifted some scenes from the book to create tension and contrast. The cinematic feel of the opening with scenes from the end of the novel but without context worked especially well. I find the prose novel’s first chapter — the tour of the hatchery — a bit on the boring side, so that little teaser at the beginning is a definite improvement.
O brave new world,
A graphic novel review wouldn’t be complete without talking about the book’s build. This is a hardcover edition with a nine-inch trim, sewn binding, and a matte cover. The lack of a dust jacket may be a deal-breaker for some, but dust jackets have become obsolete since shrink wrapping was invented — major comic publishers have only been recently catching up, like DC Comics with their new Batman: The Long Halloween deluxe editions. Interior pages are printed on uncoated matte paper, which I didn’t like as much. The art would have popped on glossy paper stock.
It would have been nice if the publishers included some bonus material at the end of the book. Behind-the-scenes material on Fordham’s process — what kind of media he used, how he broke down and paced the story on every page, an essay or interview on his approach to adapting existing work — would have been interesting additions.
That has such people in’t
Final thoughts: I liked Fred Fordham’s adaptation a lot more than I expected. It kept all the important beats of the story, the visuals worked well for the story, and overall the book feels like it was written as a graphic novel instead of adapted from an existing work. If graphic novel adaptations of literary classics were more like this, I would have more of them on my shelves.
Clifford is a content writer, musician, and caffeine fiend who co-hosts comic book podcast Those Fcking Nerds (@thoseeffingnerds) on Facebook, designs custom slipcases and box sets, and does the occasional unboxing and haul videos. Check his stuff out on Instagram (@tapsilogic) and his YouTube channel at your own peril.