With The Odyssey, published on October 12 by Candlewick, Gareth Hinds continues his project of reinterpreting classic texts in the graphic novel format. With this 256-page work, in watercolor and pastel, he hopes to find a wide audience in schools and libraries, while still appealing to adults.
Hinds’s self-published graphic novel of Beowulf first attracted Candlewick’s attention. Deb Wayshak, his editor, explains, “We were taken with his art style and invited him into the office, ultimately updating and reissuing” the book in 2007. Candlewick has since published Hinds’s takes on King Lear and The Merchant of Venice, the latter of which he also self-published. Hinds notes he is attracted to classic texts because they “have so much depth that I can delve into.”
The Odyssey “has been a dream project” for Hinds. He fell in love with the epic in the ninth grade and had read it at least seven times before starting the project. He consulted portions of at least a dozen translations while working on the book, as well as doing extensive research on the Bronze Age. He notes, however, that little visual information exists about that era and “most people’s image for what is going on in The Odyssey is from classical Greece.” Those facts, along with the “fantastical” nature of the material, freed him feeling obligated to strive for strict historical accuracy. Hinds also consulted with Eric Shanower, creator of the Trojan War graphic novel series The Age of Bronze, who “was very helpful and encouraging.” Shanower warned that his own “obsession with doing things historically accurately slows him down” and encouraged Hinds to take a more creative approach.
Hinds considered licensing a translation of the poem, but soon realized, because of the length, he needed to rewrite the text in his own words. His goal was to “keep the flavor of Homer, so it doesn’t feel like contemporary English” while avoiding sounding “anachronistic or too stilted.” The artist admits it was a daunting task, but not as much as taking on Shakespeare.
The hardcover edition of The Odyssey will have an initial print run of 10,000 copies while the paperback will have one of 15,000 copies. Candlewick has been reaching out to traditional and new media sources to publicize the work. “Early on, we sent Odyssey blads to key media contacts and bloggers and followed up with advances,” explains Jennifer Roberts, executive director of marketing, publicity, and events. The work is featured in the company’s Web site and has been advertised at all trade shows featuring fall 2010 books; Candlewick has also created promotional bookmarks for giveaway at conferences, schools, and events. The book has been featured in Candlewick’s e-newsletters and was one of 12 books highlighted in the School Library Journal webcast Teen Book Buzz. Hinds will appear at the National Council of Teachers of English annual conference in November. Candlewick will also showcase The Odyssey at the American Library Association’s and International Reading Association’s annual conferences.
Candlewick has also sent review copies to bloggers who focus on graphic novels for adults to reach out to an older audience. While Hinds acknowledges the way books are marketed and segregated makes crossover difficult, he hopes “Candlewick’s beautiful production” will help attract a wider audience.
Currently Hinds is illustrating Ancient Words, a book written by Lise Lunge-Larsen about English terms that are based on mythology, for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. He is planning an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, while also focusing on an original work. “I do want to make sure that I don’t get pigeon-holed.” For Candlewick’s part, Wayshak cites Matt Phalen’s Around the World and Cynthia Leitich Smith and Ming Doyle's graphic novel edition of Tantalize, both due in fall 2011, as works that should appeal to fans of The Odyssey. She concluded, “We're less interested in categorical publishing than in supporting the vision of individual artists and storytellers. Gareth takes his inspiration from the classics, and from the beginning, we were drawn to his skill as an artist and to his literate approach to adaptation.”