Macbeth has always been my favourite Shakespeare play, so I was excited to take home three comic-book versions of the tragedy from the public library. I don’t think any of the three versions I read really warrant purchasing, but they were a fun way to kill and afternoon.
The least exciting version was “Picture This! Shakespeare: Macbeth,” published by Barron’s. The book is meant as an educational text for older children or young adults, and includes glosses at the bottom of pages for words such as hurlyburly and ere, as well as, “Think About It,” boxes every few pages with basic study questions. The comic is periodically interrupted by pages of text from the play, which become longer and more copious towards the end of the book. These sections also include boxes that identify and define literary tropes used in the excerpted lines of the play. The artwork of the comic is decent, but not terribly exciting. While the children’s education angle of the book could be blamed for preventing this comic from being interesting, I think the large, un-illustrated swathes of text are more to blame. This is because the second version of the comic, “Comic Book Shakespeare: Macbeth,” is also an educational version of the play, and yet is much more appealing.
“Comic Book Shakespeare: Macbeth,” has better drawings, which make the witches look more creepy and otherworldly, and make the rest of the book generally more attractive and interesting that the Picture This! version of the text. Instead of including distracting glosses, each frame includes the text written in the original language, and then in contemporary, simplified English. The different versions are assigned different colours, so in each frame the reader can immediately pick out the version of the text they wish to read. Rather than sliding large selections of text into the comic, the book is illustrated the entire way through. Despite not including the entire original text, the characters all emerge very well developed (especially Lady Mac beth), and all major elements of the play are evoked with ease. This approach is much more successful than including large chunks of text that are difficult to illustrate, with the book unfolding effortlessly instead of jarring you out of comic-mode. Including the texts separately also ensures that both older and younger audiences can enjoy the book, rather than only students who are at a reading level where they half understand the original play. Of the three comic versions of Macbeth that I read, I would most strongly recommend this one.
The final comic book version of Macbeth that I read was, “Graphic Shakespeare Library: Macbeth.” This is the only comic book version which includes the entire text of the original play, without glosses, footnotes, or simplified text, making the book perhaps more appealing to an older audience. The book is also the only one in full colour, rather than black and white. However, the art work is a bit 80s cheesy to say the least, and doesn’t really recommend the text, with its flat shading and bland colours. I also found that including the entire original text defeats the purpose of having the comic book. The appeal of a comic book version of the play, for me, is that you can review the play more quickly than you would be able to read the entire play. If all the comic book does simply reproduce the entire play verbatim, the illustrations had better be good—so good that they warrant reading the comic instead of watching the play, or reading the play and using your own imagination to produce the sets, characters, and various magical shenanigans of Macbeth. “Graphic Shakespeare Library: Macbeth” fails to achieve this. So, if you’re looking for a quick and fun recap of Macbeth, I’d recommend “Comic Book Shakespeare: Macbeth.” Not only is it the most fun for adults, but also the best version for kids. Tragedy… fun for the whole family!
Do you have a favourite comic book version of Shakespeare? Some other favourite contemporary interpretation of Shakespeare’s plays?
Helen Hajnoczky's work has appeared in Nod, fillingStation, Rampike, and Matrix magazines, as well as in a variety of chapbooks. Her first book, Poets and Killers: A Life in Advertising, is forthcoming from Snare Books.