Adapting an existing work into a graphic novel is more than just providing pictures to words. Aside from editing for space and pacing, the adapter must choose an aesthetic that is true to the source's tone, and decide where and how to let the art do the talking. Here are 12 great adaptations of everything from novels to movies, video games, and even a government report. Each is a work of art in its own right, and while none of these will ever replace its original, they've certainly earned a spot alongside it on the shelf.
The Graphic Canon Vols. 1-3
Seven Stories Press, 2012-2013
Collecting nearly two hundred classic and modern works of literature adapted into comics form by an small army of cartoonists, this extensive three-volume anthology is a testament to the evocative power of words and pictures. Edited by Russ Kick, the Graphic Canon contains works ranging from Le Morte D'Arthur, On the Origin of Species, The Tale of Genji, Lolita, and Infinite Jest by artists including R. Crumb, Molly Crabapple, Gris Grimley, S. Clay Wilson, Will Eisner, Gareth Hinds, Brendan Leach, Peter Kuper, and many more.
The Complete Don Quixote
Illustrator Rob Davis takes Cervantes's timeless tale of tenacious heroism and delivers a seamless rendering worthy of its lauded source. His effortless line and lush color palette perfectly capture the thrills, tragedy, and the humor of the original and gives readers a more approachable version of the story.
Alien: The Illustrated Story
Titan, 2012 (Originally published by Heavy Metal, 1979)
Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson, two legendary comic creators take on Alien, Ridley Scott's science fiction/horror classic. Originally released in 1979 (and republished by Titan in 2012), the original graphic album captured the suspense of the movie and stood out against its peers in terms of tone and visuals. The book also became the first graphic novel to reach the New York Times bestseller list.
The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb
W.W. Norton & Company, 2009
Legendary cartoonist Robert Crumb tries his hand at the Bible, visualizing all fifty chapters of the first book of the Old Testament. Depicted in Crumb's trademark hatched style, the comic is an intentionally literal interpretation of the original Hebrew text and eschews any embellishment of its ample descriptions of sex and violence. The book was released in a single volume and earned Crumb the Harvey Award for best artist in 2010, as well as Eisner Award nominations for Best Graphic Album, Best Writer/Artist, and Best Adaptation.
The Times of Botchan
Ponent Mon, 2009 (originally published 1986)
Written in 1906 by Natsume Soseki, Botchan is the story of the life of Botchan, a Toyko-native whose experience growing up outside of the Japanese capital reflected the culture's then shifting morality and complex relationship with Western ideas. It's considered a classic in Japan and is often read in schools. Beginning in the late 1980s, acclaimed mangaka Jiro Taniguchi began adapting much of the work in his emotive and sober style of storytelling. The English translation of the series is currently being collected in ten volumes by publisher Ponent Mon.
The Warren Commission Report: A Graphic Investigation into the Kennedy Assassination
Following the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1963, a seven-person panel was appointed to investigate the circumstances surrounding the infamous murder. Their report, presented to President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, bolstered their original conclusion denying any conspiracy, despite conflicting narratives and dubious reporting. Now, 50 years later, writer Dan Mishkin, with artists Ernie Colon and Jerzy Drozd have used comics to offer a clear picture of the report and its purpose.
City of Glass
Picador, 2004 (originally published in 1994 by Avon Books)
The first part of Paul Auster's heady and metafictional New York Trilogy was adapted into graphic form by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli in the 1990s with guidance from Art Spiegelman. The story centers on Daniel Quinn, a writer who inadvertently plays hard boiled detective on a case that leads him to discover many things about his employer, Peter Stillman, as well as a character named Paul Auster, and the author himself. Like the original prose novel, the adaptation has earned wide praise from both the comic book and literary world, particularly for Mazzucchelli's artistic imaginative renderings of Auster's words.
Crown Publishing Group, 2003
After adapting various works by Franz Kafka in Give It Up! (NBM, 1995), illustrator Peter Kuper adapted the author's most enduring work, The Metamorphosis, the poignant story of Gregor Samsa, a man who is transformed into a giant bug. Using blocky, black and white forms, Kuper's interpretation captures much of the original's weird and comic tone, and is held in high regard by many literary scholars.
Prince of Cats
DC Comics/Vertigo, 2012
Artist Ronald Wimberly gives Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet a modern, hip-hop influenced spin, with a retelling of the story from Tybalt's perspective. The comic takes place in Brooklyn and focuses on the battles between the Capulets and Montagues, written in iambic pentameter and visualized with Wimberly's lithe forms and neon hues.
Richard Stark's Parker
Since 2009, award winning cartoonist Darwyn Cooke has been adapting author Richard Stark's (aka Donald Westlake) Parker novels, including The Hunter, The Outfit, The Score, and Slayground. The eponymous Parker is a capable criminal who lives on his own terms, one step ahead of the law and his (many) enemies. In Parker, Cooke finds the perfect stories for his signature retro style, and his work has earned him the Eisner Awards for Best Short Story, Best Graphic Album: Reprint, and Best Adaptation of Another Work.
The Graveyard Book
Acclaimed illustrator P. Craig Russell adapts author Neil Gaiman's bestselling and Newbery Award-winning novel, The Graveyard Book into two graphic novels, with art by Russell, Tony Harris, Kevin Nowlan, and Jill Thompson. The story centers on Bod, a boy who was raised in a graveyard by ghosts, who must find a way to live his life with one foot in the realm of the living and the other in that of the dead.
The Legend of Zelda
Viz/Perfect Square, 2008 (originally published by Shogakukan in 1998)
Based on the popular video game franchise, The Legend of Zelda manga series, written and drawn by the duo known as Akira Himekawa, follows the stories of some of the series recent entries including Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, Phantom Hourglass, and Skyward Sword. Other comic adaptations of different games also exist, including A Link to the Past by Shotaro Ishinomori.