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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Great Expectations

The latest title from Classical Comics returns to the well of Charles Dickens—they've already published a fine adaptation of A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations lives up to the high standards of the earlier book. This was one of the few Dickens' novels I read as a kid, forced into it at school none to willingly. But I seem to remember enjoying it, much to my surprise. It was a hell of a lot better than Far From the Madding Crowd, which we did at O-Level.

The basics of the plot are the entwined destinies of young Pip Pirrip, an orphan being raised by his severe sister, the wife of a local blacksmith named Joe Gargery, a mysterious and scary villain, who encounters Pip in a graveyard and asks him to steal food and a file, and the bizarre Miss Havisham, a rich, bitter old maid who has never gotten over being jilted at the altar and who has raised her adopted daughter, Estella, so that she will break the hearts of every boy she meets.

Pip, who has no expectations from life, is given a chance to study in London thanks to an anonymous benefactor. Pip is convinced that this must be Miss Havisham, raising his hopes that one day he and Estella will have a future.

Dickens always peopled his novels with great characters, so, along Pip's journey, we meet Biddy, a young girl of his own age, Jaggers, a lawyer, and his assistant Wemmick, and, eventually, Magwitch. Our own expectations of the book are turned on their head, just as Pip's are, when he learns the truth about his benefactor.

While there's no doubting Dickens' talents as a writer to carry his readers along, language has changed over the past 150 years and the sheer size of Great Expectations as a novel (the latest Penguin edition clocks in at 544 pages, the Wordsworth Edition at 430) is going to be as offputting to a child today as it was thirty plus years ago when I was looking at this brick of a book that I was being told to read.

I do like the Classical Comics adaptations for the fact that they retain, in the Original Text version, the... er... original text, albeit abridged to fit the story into 140 pages. With four to six frames per page, that's a considerable amount of the original book reproduced. The Quick Text has been rewritten in modern English without losing any of the plot of the novel, although I do feel you lose something of the flavour of the original.

The artwork is nothing short of superb. Drawn by John Stokes and coloured by Digicore Studios & Jason Cardy, it's detailed, evocative and moody, as good as you'd expect from John Stokes—probably better known as an inker to most people reading this but to me always the artist of "Fishboy" and "Marney the Fox" in Buster and "Star Trek" in Valiant, which I would much rather have been reading at school than Great Expectations. If only we'd had this book back then... I wouldn't have been nearly so unenthusiastic about reading it.


Great Expectations (Original Text, abridged). Classical Comics ISBN 978-1-906332-09-9, March 2009.
Great Expectations (Quick Text). Classical Comics ISBN 978-1-906332-11-2, March 2009.

(* artwork © Classical Comics Ltd.)

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