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Robert Louis Stevenson
edited by Tom Pomplun
Eureka Productions, 144 pages

Robert Louis Stevenson
Graphic Classics
Graphic Classics is a series of books presenting great fiction in comics and illustration for contemporary readers of all ages. Each issue features the works of one great author, illustrated by some of the best artists working today in the fields of comics, illustration and fine arts.

Robert Louis Stevenson Links
Graphic Classics

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Susan Dunman

When someone mentions a "classic" author, what's your first reaction? Do you sparkle with pleasant memories? Or, do you duck out of the conversation entirely, remembering painful English classes and equally painful trips to the library? If your "literature appreciation" meter tends to waver toward the negative side of the scale, then you might want to consider giving Graphic Classics a try.

This ninth volume in the Graphic Classics series features Robert Louis Stevenson, highlighting some of his most popular works, as well as more esoteric short stories and poetry. Editor Tom Pomplun has assembled a cast of 25 illustrators and writers to create an engaging look at Stevenson's work and his influence on readers of all ages. Adaptations stay true to the original text, creating an abbreviated form of these stories that keeps the original language and style.

"The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is the featured story and this familiar tale is told in two parts. The first section is in traditional comic book form, drawn in a somewhat blocky style that imparts a Victorian feel to the drama. The second half of the story is more of a picture-book style with single-page illustrations accompanied by text.

Revisiting the original source of a legendary tale is nearly always a revelatory experience and reading about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is no exception. The story is about much more than a drug-induced multiple personality disorder and it is well worth the effort to take a second look at what Stevenson was trying to tell his readers.

Another excellent short story included in this collection is "The Bottle Imp." Here, Stevenson relates the predicament of Keawe, a young man from Hawaii who buys a magic bottle. Unfortunately, there are numerous strings attached to the mysterious bottle. It seems that an imp from hell resides in the bottle, and although he grants any wish the owner may make, if the owner happens to die with the bottle in his possession, he is doomed to eternal damnation.

It's not just the story, but the contrast between the illustrations and the original test that makes this piece so appealing. Images are from our modern era, but the language sounds more like an ancient fable. The resulting incongruence between words and pictures forces readers to take a closer look at both forms of communication, which adds a nice twist to an already clever tale.

Another ingenious story is "The Suicide Club," which tells of a unique organization whose members have taken an unconventional approach to the problem of second-guessing their decision to end it all. In this case, illustrations and text go hand-in-hand to produce another satisfying story-telling experience.

In addition to these fairly substantial stories from Stephenson, the editor has included a haunting tale entitled, "The Nixie," written by Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson, the wife of Robert Louis. The story line would fit well into an episode of The Twilight Zone, and although Fanny has a different writing style than her acclaimed husband, her work stands on its own merit and is a nice addition to the overall collection.

An assortment of shorter stories, fables, and poetry make up the rest of the volume, with illustrations in a variety of styles reflecting emotions ranging from humor to horror to artistic respect for Stevenson's work. As an added treat, Robert and Maxon Crumb offer their own tribute to Treasure Island using both words and drawings to reflect on the impact which one high-seas story had on the lives of two young brothers. Maxon's full page illustration of a completely wooden Long John Silver offers an imaginative representation of this enduring pirate adventure.

If you're not familiar with Stevenson's work, this is a painless, enjoyable introduction to an author with whom everyone should have at least a passing acquaintance. If, on the other hand, you grew up with Stevenson's stories, but it has been awhile, then use this entertaining graphic novel to refresh your memory. Perhaps it will even inspire you to go back and re-read some of the original literature. And even if it doesn't, it's still fun to take this snapshot tour through one man's amazing imagination.

Copyright © 2004 Susan Dunman

Susan became a librarian many light years ago and has been reviewing books ever since. Audiobooks and graphic novels have expanded her quest to find the best science fiction in Libraryland.

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