Saturday, October 19, 2019

Dispossession by Simon Grennan

Dispossession by Simon Grennan (Jonathan Cape, 2014)

Adaptations of classic literature into comics form are almost universally terrible, so one would be forgiven for imagining that this adaptation of Anthony Trollope's novel John Caldigate would be similarly bad. But I was very pleasantly surprised. Grennan (best known for his collaborations with Christopher Sperandio) manages to take this 600-page Victorian novel and condense it convincingly into 93 pages. How does he manage it? He does it by a careful elliptical construction. He lets the pictures tell the story and skips anything unnecessary to the telling. (It helps if you know the outline of the novel before you read it.)

This approach allows him to add a subplot not present in the Trollope novel--a story of an aboriginal second wife who leaves her husband as they interact with the European city dwellers and miners of the story. Their dialogue is in the Wiradjuri language. The Wiradjuri are an ethnic group of Aboriginal people who lived in New South Wales. This subplot seems kind of tacked on, as if Grennan thought it necessary to remind readers that John Caldgate and his companions were all extracting wealth from Australia as colonizers, but it has parallels to the story in Trollope's novel. Caldigate essentially has two wives, which causes him much trouble, as does Gulpilil, the Aboriginal man in the Wiradjuri subplot.

If you had seen Grennan's photo-based comics done with Sperandio, you will be surprised by the artwork here. He has a very loose style, that recalls Blutch's comics. He tells the story in a rigid 9-panel grid on the page, and the work is uncinematic. There are no close ups and the angles are usually straight-on. Most of the characters are shown in full-figure, which reminds me of Gabrielle Bell's work.

The format is quite lovely. 9" x 11" trim-size with glossy, full-color pages. The edition I have is a hard-cover, but Amazon has a Kindle version available as well.

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