by Derek Royal
Classic works of American literature have been adapted to comics since the medium first gained a pop cultural foothold. What is notable is that almost all of the earliest adaptations of American literature sprang not only from antebellum texts, but from what we now consider classic examples of literary romance, those narrative spaces between the real and the fantastic where psychological states become the scaffolding of national and historical morality. It is only appropriate that comics, a hybrid medium where image and text often breed an ambiguous yet pliable synthesis, have become such a fertile means of retelling these early American romances.
Given this predominance of early nineteenth-century writers adapted to the graphic narrative form, it is curious how one such author has been underrepresented within the medium, at least when compared to the treatment given to his contemporaries. The work of Nathaniel Hawthorne, unarguably one of the most canonical examples of American romance writing, has seen relatively little attention within comics. Outside of a few adaptations of The Scarlet Letter and House of the Seven Gables, one would be pressed to find significant visual translations of Hawthorne’s fiction. And what comics adaptations there actually are of Hawthorne’s work are uneven at best, especially when compared to the attention that other nineteenth-century authors have received.
The focus of my essay, recently published in The Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, is on these adaptations of Hawthorne’s stories and how various creators have interpreted in graphic form, or even visually translated, these narratives to greater or lesser degrees of fidelity. I look at these adaptations within the context of comics history, the use of comics for educational purposes, the formation of an American literary canon, a means of exploring the dynamics of race and gender, and the links between sequential media affordance and the characteristics of romance fiction.
Take a look at these examples of Hawthorne adaptations in comics form: