Friday, March 06, 2009

Kidnapped Collectors' Edition

Published in January, Waverley Books have gone to town on the release of this two-volume, slipcased edition of Kidnapped, adapted by Alan Grant & Cam Kennedy from the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. The book was originally released as part of Edinburgh's city-wide reading campaign 'One Book—One Edinburgh' in February 2007. Three new editions of the title were released—the novel itself, a simplified retelling of the story for a younger audience and the graphic novel. 7,500 copies of the graphic novel were distributed around the city by primary and secondary schools, libraries, cultural venues, community organisations and a BookCrossing scheme.

The graphic novel proved to be a remarkable success, singled out by Amanda Craig for a special mention in a 'Books for Boys' list that appeared in The Times. It was used as part of the school curriculum and received a lot of compliments from teachers. One was quoted in a report of the One Book—One Edinburgh project as saying, "Many of the pupils are reluctant readers and it was surprising how well they took to the graphic version. The illustrations were well received and caught their imagination. The teachers were able to engage their interest in the story by discussing the pictures."

The book was so successful, in fact, that for February 2008, Edinburgh produced a second graphic novel by the same team adapting Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, published in four versions (the classic tale, a simplified text and Scots and Gaelic language editions).

Now, Waverley have reissued the book, quarter-bound in cloth in a limited edition of 500 numbered copies, signed by both author and artist. A second hardcover volume—a 64-page "making of" book which takes you behind the scenes, showing readers how the adaptation of Kidnapped was created—has been newly published for this slipcase edition.

This is far from being the first time that Kidnapped has been adapted. Eric Parker did a version back in 1945 and a particular favourite is the 12-part version drawn by Gino D'Antonio and Peter Jackson for Look and Learn in 1966. The making-of book illustrates yet another version, by Dudley D. Watkins.

This new adaptation compares well with all these. Cam Kennedy has long been a favourite of mine, dating back to his work in Battle Action and 2000AD in the late 1970s; he was a regular on "Rogue Trooper" and "Judge Dredd" in the latter, although the wider audience probably knows him from Star Wars: Dark Empire. You can't mistake Kennedy's angular, muscular heroes and villains for anyone else. With much of the story set in the Scottish highlands and at sea, this is a chance to see how well Kennedy tackles environments other than futuristic cities and bomb-blasted battlefields.

Alan Grant has covered the bulk of the action in his adaptation—even with 64 pages to play with,a certain amount of trimming is necessary. One scene from the novel, where David enters a bagpipe duel with Robin Oig (the son of Rob Roy Macgregor), is a surprising omission given the very Scottish nature of the book and the reason behind its publication, but I guess sacrifices have to be made (and it doesn't progress the plot one iota).

I found the second, behind-the-scenes book to be the gem of the two. Packed with sketches, pencils and comparisons of roughs to finished pages, it's a fascinating trip through the process that Kennedy went through to get the look of the book. His pencils are incredibly detailed and much time was spent experimenting with looks for the characters, the colouring of the landscapes, and researching weaponry and clothing. Even where he has taken an aesthetic choice, like not having Davie wearing a bonnet for part of the story, Kennedy is aware that the bonnet exists ("It's in his pocket").

Kidnapped is one of those classic stories that adapts well to comics. The plot is fairly straightforward, there's a good character arc for the hero and plenty of action. If you've never read the book, this is a great way to enjoy the story—it's called a classic for a reason.

Kidnapped. Waverley Books ISBN 978-190240755-5, January 2009. £50 + p&p. Available from

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