Big and Little Women: Graphic Classics Vol. 18

Posted by on May 12th, 2010 at 5:11 AM

Rob reviews the 18th volume of GRAPHIC CLASSICS, focusing on the work of Louisa May Alcott.  It was edited by Tom Pomplun and published, as always, by Eureka Productions.

To date, most of the GRAPHIC CLASSICS editions have been genre stories: detective stories, horror stories, science-fiction, high adventure, etc.  There are a couple of exceptions, the Mark Twain volume being the most notable.  These are all Boys’ Adventures, for the most part, with the vast majority of the authors being men.  That’s what makes the latest volume (#18) such a startling left turn: it focuses on the work of Louisa May Alcott.  Alcott was an interesting figure as an early feminist in the 19th century, active in the abolitionist and suffragist movements.  She was also unusual that she was a family breadwinner thanks to her writing, with LITTLE WOMEN becoming a runaway best-seller.  It’s interesting that a story about the bonds between sisters with a distinctly feminist bent should be such a success in the 19th century.

The team of Trina Robbins & Anne Timmons adapted that novel as the centerpiece of this volume and did their best to cram a 450+ page novel into 50 pages of comics.  It’s a straightforward, no-frills rendition that relies on Alcott’s witty dialogue to move things along.  Timmons tries to vary panel design and shape to open things up a bit, but there are still several pages strangled by word balloons.  She was aided by the fact that this volume is in color, which helped to keep my eye engaged with the page.  That use of color helped sharpen the images on the page as well, highlighting the solid composition sense.  There’s a softness to Timmons’ line that can be lost in her black & white work, especially in a story that’s mostly just talking heads.  The story itself is sentimental and lacks tension, but the sense of warmth is so genuine that it’s hard not to get swept up into the lives of the March girls, especially Alcott stand-in Jo, a hard-headed, independent girl with a talent for writing.

The highlights of this volume immediately follow “Little Women”, starting with “The Rival Prima Donnas”, adapted by Rod Lott and drawn by Molly Crabapple.   Crabapple’s dramatic, over-the-top approach was a perfect match with this story filled with murder and romance.  “Buzz” was adapted by Pomplun and the great Mary Fleener, who was a good choice to illustrate this story about a lonely woman striking up a “friendship” with a fly.  It’s a strangely affecting story in that it romanticizes what we would normally consider to be a repulsive pest, but it was the only company this woman had.  Pomplun and underground legend Shary Flenniken adapted “The Piggy Girl”, a funny corrective tale about a filthy little girl who goes to live with the pigs because she hated being scrubbed clean.  The simplicity of Fleniken’s line lent itself nicely to the fairy-tale aspect of this story.

Pomplun went out of his way to illuminate as many authorial voices as possible for the versatile Alcott, but the truth is that she didn’t excel at everything.  “Lost In A Pyramid” was an eminently predictable story about an Egyptian curse that felt torn from then-current popular culture.  “A Whisper In The Dark” was Alcott’s stab at gothic horror/romance, but its convoluted plot was done no favors by the flat, vaguely manga-influenced art of Arnold Arre.  While these stories may have been misses, I still admired Pomplun’s willingness to take risks both in the kinds of stories he selected for adaptation as well as choosing Alcott as a subject.

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