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Book Review: Henry V by Classical Comics

* Genre: Graphic Novel, Literature, Drama
* ISBN: 1906332002
* ISBN-13: 9781906332006
* Format: Paperback, 144pp
* Publisher: Classical Comics
* Pub. Date: November 2007

Depending on how you look at it, most of us were forced or fortunate enough to read many of the greatest works of fiction in junior and high school. I�m sure you remember breezing through the novels you loved and slogging through the books you hated. If you are young enough, you likely remember trying to find the video version as well.

But perhaps most difficult of all these classics of literature we read was the works of Shakespeare. AS an Elizabethan writer, his English was archaic, and while teachers assured us it was filled with innuendo (or maybe it was fellow students?) we never could quite get the story. Many times, this was due to the fact that we were reading the work of a playwright, but were unable to see the work actually performed. Sometimes we might be fortunate enough to go to a Shakespeare festival, and maybe we say one on microfilm or VHS, but that was one class in a quarter, and never allowed us to engage the dry text before us.

Enter Classical Comics. This UK based publisher has done what others have been unable to do. Namely, give us a visual representation to go alongside the text of the Great Bard�s plays. Using the graphic novel format, Classical Comics gives teacher and students (plus those of us who love good literature) a fun and interesting way to enjoy the works of Shakespeare.

You might say that this has been done before and I agree it has been tried for all sorts of classics. But most of the time, they use abridged versions, dumbed down to fit on the page and leave more room for artwork. Not so Classical Comics. They give us not one version, but three. There is the unabridged version, best for the high school student or adult, the plain text version, which uses modern English to give us the gist of the Bard�s meaning, and the quick text version, which is a great way to introduce potential lovers of the classics, especially elementary age children.

For Classical Comics first book, they chose Henry V, probably the most action packed and inspiring of Shakespeare�s plays. Obviously, most readers will be familiar with the play itself, so I won�t go into detail here, but suffice it to say that its words are as awesome as ever.

henryv015.jpgClassical Comics has really done a good job translating the words into images. (Unfortunately, this example doesn’t have the text, but you can look at more complete versions in pdf format at the website.) Although the artwork is a little bit on the cartoony side (rounded edges, not much in the way of sharp lines, it reminds me of early Disney films) it is well laid out, and the text is never crammed into the panels. And yet the full text is there.

The marriage of artwork and text is important, especially when so many students are historically illiterate. They have difficulty picturing how some of the characters may have dressed or what the country side might have looked like. Classical Comics recreates these things as best they can, allowing students and readers to see with their eyes as well as their minds.

Additionally, the work contains historical background at the end of the volume on Shakespeare, the Globe Theater, the time period as well as a discussion of just how they transformed the work from dry, dusty page to colorful, interesting comics. And you don�t have to take my word for it. Says Patrick Stewart, skilled Shakespearean actor and Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: TNG fame, �I find them gripping, dramatic and, although for me the original Shakespeare is always my reason for turning to these plays, I think that what you are doing in illuminating and making perhaps more lucid, especially for young people, is clever and meaningful.�
Need any more be said?

For me, this really revived my interest in the works, and if I were still a teacher, I would have been sure to use it in my classroom. I would even recommend giving these books out as the text to use. Having a picture to go with the words, and having the ability to access a plain English text is of inestimable value to the teacher and the student.

If you want to read the classics, but are afraid after bad experiences in your youth, Classical Comics has the solution for you. Their next volumes include Macbeth, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, as well as works by Charles Dickens and Mary Shelley. Although the longer novels will be abridged versions I�m still looking forward to all of them, especially since I know that Classical Comics will give me interesting artwork to go with the story.

I highly recommend reading Henry V as one of the greatest epics of all time, and I recommend these particular editions from Classical Comics as the best for understanding the plays, short of seeing it them performed live.

You can read samples at their site in PDF format, to get a taste of what the books look and read like.

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