Book Corner: Literary Classics Reimagined as Graphic Novels

Though I managed a bookstore for years before becoming a librarian, I was never interested in reading graphic novels. So the first one I ever read was required for a grad school literature class when I was in my 30s. That graphic novel was Maus, A Survivor's Tale, opens a new window, by Art Spiegelman, and both the class and the book taught me the value of reading and appreciating graphic novels.

Despite what some people say, graphics novels are indeed “real books.” Reading a graphic novel requires reading text and comprehending illustrations simultaneously. And, for people who aren’t avid readers, are just learning English, or are struggling with reading, graphic novels provide an accessible way to enjoy books. Even if you’re a staunch reader of print or a lover of audiobooks, you can still appreciate the experience of reading a graphic novel.

I’m highlighting some well-known classics that have been reimagined as graphic novels. These works are impressive, as it requires distilling the text of an entire novel into bite-sized chunks while keeping the essence of the story. Then, the author/illustrator must create original images that accompany said text, making sure the artwork and colors complement the words. Even if you’ve already read these in print, I encourage you to give these graphic novel adaptations a try.

Octavia E. Butler's Kindred, opens a new window by Damian Duffy and John Jennings
Kindred,, opens a new window a 1979 masterpiece by African American science fiction legend Butler, is reimagined by respected academics and artists Duffy and Jennings. Butler’s most critically acclaimed work tells the story of Dana, a young Black woman who is suddenly transported from 1970s California to the pre-Civil War South. Through Dana, Butler skillfully explores the brutality and loss of humanity caused by slavery in the United States, and its complicated and lasting effects on the present day.

The Great Gatsby, opens a new window by Fred Fordham, Aya Morton, and F. Scott Fitzgerald
Another Fordham adaptation, this time illustrating the wealthy, excessive lifestyles featured in Fitzgerald’s 1920s classic., opens a new window After World War I, Nick Carraway moves to West Egg, New York, where his cousin Daisy and her husband Tom introduce him to the luxe life. But their lifestyle doesn’t hold a candle to that of Nick’s East Egg neighbor, Jay Gatsby, who throws frequent, boisterous parties at his colossal mansion. Fordham deftly pares down the narrative while his illustrations reflect the Art Deco period with careful attention to detail.

To Kill A Mockingbird, opens a new window by Fred Fordham and Harper Lee
Lee’s 1960s novel, opens a new window is already well-known and required reading for most high school students, yet this graphic adaptation provides a fresh take on a classic story that makes it worth revisiting. Fordham uses text from the original novel and focuses his illustrations on the characters and dialogue, rather than scenery, to highlight the deeply rooted racial injustice on which the story is based.

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, opens a new window by Tim Hamilton
Endorsed by Bradbury himself, Hamilton’s adaptation of this classic tale, opens a new window of censorship will entice anyone who hasn’t read the original to seek it out. This is the story of Montag, the fireman whose job it is to eliminate forbidden books by burning them, only to become intrigued by the books themselves, a treason that sets off a chain of consequences. Hamilton creates a moody, dark atmosphere with his fitting vision of the 1950s version of “the future,” using two-tone palettes that explode into red sickles during more heated moments.

The Handmaid's Tale, opens a new window by Renée Nault and Margaret Atwood
Written in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale, opens a new window is a dystopian tale that continues to capture our imaginations as a novel, an award-winning Hulu series and as a graphic novel. In the Republic of Gilead, women’s identities and freedom are stripped away to make them nothing but property. Handmaids, whose purpose is to bear children for Gilead officials and their infertile wives, are emotionally and physically beaten into submission by “Aunts” before being released to a household. Handmaid Offred finds herself in the house of the lead Commander and must obey every rule for fear of punishment, even death. But Offred remembers a time when she lived freely with her own daughter and husband, and finds small ways to rebel against, and undermine, the leadership of Gilead.

Central Rappahannock Regional Library’s seventh annual CRRL-Con kicks off on Saturday, May 7, with live, virtual events. Participate in virtual and in-person CRRL-Con events for all ages all month long. Visit, opens a new window for details and information on Comics Plus,, opens a new window which offers thousands of streaming graphic novels and manga for all ages.

Tracy McPeck is Adult Services Coordinator for Central Rappahannock Regional Library. This post was first published by the Free Lance-Star newspaper.