Scholastic will publish a graphic novel based on Roald Dahl’s 1983 novel The Witches under its Graphix imprint in September. This marks the first time that one of Dahl’s works has been adapted into comics form. The adaptation, by Pénélope Bagieu (California Dreamin’; Brazen), was published by French publisher Gallimard in January. A film based on the novel is slated for release in late 2020.
The graphic novel is set in the present day but retains the spirit of Dahl’s original, said David Saylor, v-p and creative director of trade publishing, and editorial director of Graphix. Graphix is home to the popular Dog Man series as well as Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels, and The Witches is a departure both because it is an import and because it is an adaptation of a classic novel. “We have a lot of contemporary appeal, and fantasy,” Saylor said, “but we haven’t adapted a classic story like this before, so I think it brings something entirely new to the Graphix list.” The graphic novel is slightly different from the original in that it is set in the present day.
Like Dahl’s other works, which include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda, The Witches is darkly humorous. It follows the adventures of a recently orphaned boy as he learns of the evil witches that prey on children and then encounters them in real life. Bagieu says she first read the book when she was about eight, and she was not put off by the book’s dark side. “I remember as a child reading stories or watching cartoons where the nice people always won in the end and the grownups could never be a source of trouble,” she said, “and I remember the fact that Roald Dahl was talking to me like I wasn’t a baby— like, you know what, that’s not how it works, sometimes grownups are bad, sometimes they’re not even human, sometimes you have to be careful. But on the other hand he was also saying that even though you’re a child, you have everything it takes, you have the good ideas, the good moves, you have to trust your own instincts.”
“There’s something about his writing and his humor and the way he creates characters that continues to appeal to kids,” Saylor said. “We know from the book clubs and book fairs [that the original novel] is still selling very well. It hasn’t lost any of its luster in modern times. The Witches is one of his most popular books.”
Most of Dahl’s novels, including The Witches, were originally illustrated by Quentin Blake, and Bagieu said his work was a huge influence on her when she was growing up. “All of my memories of Roald Dahl’s books are closely linked to his art, especially Matilda,” she said. “To me, there is no other Matilda than his Matilda.” Bagieu had a different take on The Witches, though: “I remember the grandma more than I remember the Witches drawings,” she said. “And also it was actually pretty easy, surprisingly, because I was telling my story with my characters, and it takes place in the present with a different grandma, a different hotel.”
She did sneak in an homage to Blake, though. “There’s a drawing in my book that is exactly the same as Quentin Blake’s,” she said. “It’s a scene during the witches’ meeting, a replica of his own drawing, as a tribute, you might say.”