Manga Classics: The stories of Edgar Allen Poe (Review)

poe.jpgEdgar Allen Poe is one of those authors who casts an extremely long shadow. References to and reimaginings of his work are absolutely everywhere, and despite his relatively small output, he’s someone you need to be familiar with in order to fully engage with all sorts of things.

This book contains manga versions of five of his best-known stories. Each narrative is fully illustrated by a different artist giving their own spin on the story. I was curious at first to see how they managed to do that with The Pit and the Pendulum, given that the story takes place in almost total darkness, but it turns out that one is not included.

I must admit that my initial reaction to the idea of “Manga Classics” was less than warm. So often, I find that attempts to make the classics modern and relevant only manage to do so by removing all that made them worth reading. You get Shakespeare without the layers, Austen without the bite, and so on. The classics are classics because they have some quality which withstands the ravages of time. Any adaptation that loses that quality is worse than useless – a pallid cargo-cult version that takes focus from the original.

Despite that, that I was very pleasantly surprised by this book. It’s not a simplification or a re-imagining; it’s an illustrated version. It’s Poe’s words, in Poe’s stories, just with pictures added. I am sure that there have been elisions and omissions in order to adapt to a new medium, but they are subtle and well-done enough that it is not an issue. No sentences or ideas are missing that should be included.

The art isn’t a replacement for the words, it’s an accompaniment that shifts the significance of certain things. I’m very attached to The Tell-tale Heart, and I found that the choice of narrative moments to illustrate shone a different light on the story. It’s still the same tale of growing madness, but a different flavour of it. It was fascinating to read someone else’s perspective and see what they chose to emphasise.

This book does commit whole-heartedly to the manga concept, which I did find a little irritating at times – manga read from back-to-front and right-to-left normally, and this book follows that pattern. However, manga are also normally written in Japanese, where that layout makes sense. It makes much less sense, although it is true to form, when written in English. On an e-reader, it’s just annoying.

The art style, though the book was illustrated by several different artists, is all in the distinctive manga style. I find that that style doesn’t lend itself as well to gloom as to excitement, and I was a little worried that it would detract from the stories and their general misery. However, though the style is distinctive, its quite restrained, and there are only a few moments where dessicated corpses look a little too cheerful and big-eyed.

Overall, I was surprisingly impressed by this. The art is appealing, the stories are detailed and in Poe’s words. All the ideas and the horror are still present. For an adaptation of a classic into another medium, it’s very well done.

Buy it here.

I received a copy of this through NetGalley

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