Friday, May 25, 2012

GN Review -- Sense and Sensibility / Jane Austen, Nancy Butler, and Sonny Liew

While this isn't the first graphic adaptation of an established novel that I've read--The Last Unicorn and The Alchemist come immediately to mind--it is certainly the first one I've read of a novel that by far predates the twentieth century.  Jane Austen is an author whose work I haven't consciously tried to avoid, but who I wasn't at the time sad to have missed.  Having seen several films adapted from her works, I now feel like I should have read them, as the characters are enjoyable.  With Sense and Sensibility, I finally get that chance.

Sense and Sensibility, at least in this version of the story, is about two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, two young ladies who are at or nearing marrying age at the time their father passes away.  Despite his wishes, their half-brother John, at the hard-headed behest of his domineering and materialistic wife Fanny, abolishes them, along with their mother and younger sister, to comparative poverty on a meager cottage out in the country.  Out in the countryside, having to make new lives for themselves, the sisters endure parallel adventures in love, heartbreak, and happiness as they each try to navigate the murky depths of courtship.

Elinor, who is an intelligent, chiefly intellectual woman, governs her passions to such a degree that Marianne, who is younger, more expressive and passionate, wonders if she has any feelings at all.  These differing personalities of course influence the kind of men each courts, and while Elinor handles her disappointments with quiet acceptance and deliberate introspection, Marianne wears her heart on her sleeve, at one point falling ill in despair over a failed romance.  Despite their different personalities and approaches, the sisters Dashwood love one another, and support each other as best they can when the other needs it.  When their fortunes finally take a turn for the better, they learn that perhaps their extreme approaches could do with a little more balance between the passion of love and the sensibility of logic.

As far as classical novelists go, I've heard that Austen is definitely one of the more pithy and readable authors out there, and if this adaptation is any indication, what I've heard is certainly true.  While there's not much of the action most comic readers would expect to go with the medium, there's certainly a lot going on, right from the get-go: a father passes away; a headstrong daughter-in-law moves in and makes herself the new mistress of the house; the wife and daughters of the father are essentially evicted; and they are moved to a smaller, comparatively dingy cottage.  Anyone who's ever had to depend on another family member's prosperity or fortunes for their livelihood should be interested in this story, as it's the story of how one's fortunes can change very quickly, often depending on more than just the individual.

The characters were also very memorable, particularly the sisters.  Both at times bordered on ridiculousness with their extreme personalities, and I found myself identifying with each of them as I remembered various points of my own life.  I also liked the character of Willoughby, the dashing young man who seems to good to be true--and eventually is proven to be exactly that--and Colonel Brandon, who I almost immediately visualized as being played by Colin Firth in some adaptation for film.

Artistically, I found myself enjoying Sonny Liew's alternately realistic and cartoony drawings.  I felt like they really complemented the tone and period of the setting, and they reminded me somewhat of the caricature-like political cartoons that often grace the political sections of newspapers.  I don't immediately know if they were around at the time, but they lent a convincing air to the tale that I appreciated.

Overall, Sense and Sensibility was a refreshing break from the many superhero comics I find myself reading these days.  The characterizations are memorable, as is the artwork, and as an introduction to Austen, I found it accessible.  I don't know how thorough it is--and Jane Austen fans, feel free to enlighten me if you want--but I did enjoy it.  Highly recommended.

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