Graphic Classics, Volume 14: Gothic Classics
Written by Jane Austen, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Rod Lott, Ann Radcliffe, Antonella Caputo, Edgar Allen Poe, Tom Pomplun, Trina Robbins, and Myla Jo Closser.
Illustrated by Molly Kiely, Lisa K. Weber, Carlo Vergara, Leong Wan Kok, Anne Timmons, Shary Flenniken, and Trina Robbins.
Eureka Productions; $11.95
I’m sort of a big fan of Gothic Romance. I say “sort of” because I discovered the genre by backing into it from Horror. After loving books like Frankenstein and Dracula, I wanted to learn more about the novels that inspired them, so I checked out The Castle of Otranto and The Mysteries of Udolpho.
Otranto is awesome with its giant helmets, decrepit castles, graveyard meetings, spooky forests, and hall-wandering ghosts. It’s also nice and short, so it really got me hungry for more like it. Unfortunately, Udolpho nearly turned me off the entire genre for good. It’s about half-mystery/horror; half-travelogue. For every page with a creepy room, secret passage, or black-veiled painting, there are endless descriptions of mountains and forests and views from carriages and people sitting in rooms waiting for things to happen. Also, the mystery/horror angle is considerably less satisfying than your average episode of Scooby Doo.
But still, I love the idea of gothic romances. The genre’s defining elements — innocent, young girls in peril; dark, foreign counts with evil intentions; dashing heroes with mysterious pasts; old castles and woodland graveyards — are all awesome, thrilling things that make any story better.
Gothic Classics is a great primer on the genre. I really wish that it included The Castle of Otranto, but c’est la vie. It starts with two of my favorite Graphic Classics regulars — Rod Lott and Lisa K. Weber — adapting J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. Weber’s whimsical, gothy illustrations are a natural for this volume and Carmilla as adapted here is a great story. It’s the one with the most supernatural element to it and is exactly what I hope for when I think of gothic romance.
Next up is the dreaded Mysteries of Udolpho, adapted by Antonella Caputo and Carlo Vergara. Condensing Ann Radliffe’s massive novel into 46 pages is no easy job, but in this particular case it’s so very welcome. Caputo and Vergara leave the complex plot and the cooler elements of the story intact, but take out all the drawn-out, extraneous stuff to make a version that I’ll actually re-read. And that’s the most impressive feat of all.
After Udolpho is a short Poe story called “The Oval Portrait.” All Graphic Classics volumes have a story or two that I don’t know, but am glad to have been introduced to. That’s “The Oval Portrait” here. You can kind of see the end coming, but it’s not so much about a surprise at the end as it is about dreadfully anticipating the end. And Leong Wan Kok’s illustrations make that a luscious experience.
Next up is Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, which in all frankness is what made me bump this book towards the top of my review pile. I’ve been watching The Complete Jane Austen on Masterpiece and as soon as they did Northanger Abbey it became one of my favorite Austen stories and I had to see how Trina Robbins and Anne Timmons handled it.
Very nicely, of course. Timmons has a sweet, detailed style that reminds me of illustrations in vintage children’s books. It’s perfect for capturing the wide-eyed, romance-filled innocence of Austen’s heroine.
The last story is “At the Gate” by Myla Jo Closser. I’m a little confused about its inclusion in the anthology, but it is sort of a ghost story, I suppose. Even if it’s not what I usually think of as gothic literature, I completely forgive its being here because it’s such a sweet story about dogs and their connection with their human companions. Anyone who’s had a dog will treasure it.
I said before that reading Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udoplho nearly turned me off the entire gothic genre for good. That’s true. In fact, I haven’t picked any up since then until I grabbed Gothic Classics to read. I’ve rediscovered my affection for it now though. I’m not only looking forward to reading Carmilla for myself, I’m also excited to crack open my volume of Poe again. Which is probably the point of putting together a collection like this in the first place.