Jane Eyre is one of a clutch of new titles that have come out from Classical Comics recently, the other two being Frankenstein and A Christmas Carol. Of the three, this was the one I was looking forward to the most, solely for the artwork by John M. Burns, possibly the finest comics artist working in the UK at the moment. Burns has been drawing comic strips professionally for fifty years and worked on everything from Modesty Blaise to Judge Dredd in that time. He brings to Jane Eyre the experience of someone who has drawn historical strips before (including, many years ago, adaptations of Wuthering Heights and Lorna Doone) and the skill to depict one of the essential ingredients of the story—Jane growing from a child of nine to a young woman of nineteen.
I doubt if I would have ever read Jane Eyre (or Wuthering Height and Lorna Doone, etc. for that matter) had it not been for comics—a bit too much of a girly historical romance for my usual tastes... and old fashioned... and probably clunky and full of thee-ing and thou-ing. Which is not the case. The language, albeit a little old fashioned, is actually quite clear to a modern audience even in the original text version I was reading; perhaps only one or two anachronistic words (at least a couple of words not in my vocabulary) but nothing to send you scurrying to a dictionary every five minutes.
Although the language is that used by Charlotte Bronte (the descriptions are abridged but the dialogue and captions are all from the original novel), there is no room for mistaking what the characters are saying or thinking thanks to the illustrations. The images bring the story to life with delightful clarity. You begin to notice things in the story that you might otherwise have missed. To take one little for instance: the book's metaphor of birds. "Birds were emblems of love," says Jane (p.91) and birds are a recurring motif of how Rochester imagines her, comparing her to a nonnette and a linnet; he imagines Jane will "come with soft flight and nestle against my heart." Burns draws each in the thoughts of the man as he speaks. Birds continue to feature throughout: when Jane runs away she is helped by sisters Diana and Mary "as they would a half-frozen bird"; at Ferndean, Mr Rochester is a "caged eagle"; his hair reminds Jane of an eagle's feathers and his "nails are grown like birds' claws"; and, lastly, Rochester compares her to a skylark and Jane decides that their relationship is "just as if a royal eagle, chained to a perch, must entreat a sparrow to become its purveyor." I wonder how many would spot this quite so easily had the artwork not made it so obvious in some of the frames.
Artistically, Jane Eyre is nothing short of superb and the book is an unexpected delight as poor Jane suffers one dreadful torment after another before she and her true love can finally be together. Classical Comics should be applauded for their efforts (indeed, they have been, with an IPPY award last May). The series is tied closely to the school curriculum, hence the concentration of Shakespeare, Dickens and other classics. They're good hunks of books, too, Jane Eyre running to 125 pages plus 8 pages of background material. If Jane Eyre is not your cup of tea, give one of the others a try: A Christmas Carol is a Dickens' classic with ghosts and artwork by Mike Collins & David Roach; Frankenstein adapts Mary Shelley's monster-fest with art by Declan Shalvey. There should be something for most tastes and if your tastes don't run to the original text, there's always the 'quick text' adaptations which modernise the language without losing any of the story elements.
Jane Eyre (Original Text, abridged). Classical Comics ISBN 978-1-906332-06-8, 29 September 2008.
Jane Eyre (Quick Text). Classical Comics ISBN 978-1-906332-08-2, 29 September 2008.
Frankenstein (Original Text, abridged). Classical Comics ISBN 978-1-906332-15-0, 29 September 2008.
Frankenstein (Quick Text). Classical Comics ISBN 978-1-906332-16-7, 29 September 2008.
A Christmas Carol (Original Text, abridged). Classical Comics ISBN 978-1-906332-17-4, 1 October 2008.
A Christmas Carol (Quick Text). Classical Comics ISBN 978-1-906332-18-1, 1 October 2008.