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King Lear

Originally published in the Graphic Novels & Comics Advance Magazine Supplement, an Ingram Book Group publication. Copyright 2008 by Ingram Book Group.

Q&A with Gareth Hinds

When did you first become interested in drawing comics?

Iíve been illustrating stories pretty much all my life. I have samples from when I was 5. I started drawing them in comic format in middle school, and did my first graphic novel in college.

Is it true that you went to the same high school as Frank Miller and Jeff Danziger?

Yes, we all went to U-32 High School in Vermont, and we all did illustrations for the school newspaper. They were there quite a few years before me, so I didnít know them Ė but I grew up in their shadow.

You experiment with a lot with different styles. Is there one style you favor?

I can never settle on one style; I always want to try something else, to come up with a new look or a new process for the next project. Usually even within each book there is a certain stylistic range that I explore.

Why have you chosen literary adaptations for your graphic novel work?

Iím primarily an illustrator, and what Iím fascinated by are the problems of drawing and telling a story visually. Iím not as interested in wracking my brain to create a new story; Iíd rather start out with a great story and work to retell it the best way I can in the comic medium. So Iíve chosen what I (and many others) think are the greatest stories ever told. This has a lot of side benefits. From a marketing point of view, theyíre recognizable titles; and they have a lot of value to educators, as a way to help reluctant readers engage these works. On a personal level, it takes a long time to draw a graphic novel, so I have to spend a lot of time with these texts, and their incredible richness makes that rewarding rather than tedious.

Tell us about your upcoming adaptation of The Merchant of Veniceówhy did you select this particular play?

I had just done King Lear, which is a very heavy play with (typically for Shakespeare) incredibly dense and beautiful language. I really liked adapting Shakespeare, but I wanted to play around with the text a little more, and I wanted to do one of the comedies (albeit a dark one). I love the story in Merchant; the characters are great, the settings are great, there are these fantastical, mythological elements like the three chests. At the same time, the language isnít quite as dense, and I felt I could have some leeway there, to retell this cool story with a looser adaptation of the text. Mind you, itís still critically important to me to preserve the feeling of the original. I have no interest in Hollywood-izing the classics. I just want them to read a little more smoothly to a modern audience. I made the language fairly contemporary at the beginning, to ease the reader in, and then I let the original Shakespeare creep in gradually. By the trial scene Ė which is where most of the great speeches of this play occur Ė youíre reading pretty much pure Shakespeare. I also tried to preserve the iambic pentameter in most of the parts I rewrote, which is probably unnecessary since Iím removing most of the line breaks, but I wanted to show respect for the rhythm of Shakespeareís verse.

Will you talk about your decision to use a modern cast?

I really love drawing from life, and after King Lear I was getting tired of drawing only from my imagination, so one of my goals for this project was to work from life as much as possible. I had used a model for parts of the first fight scene in Beowulf, and I wanted to try that again on a larger scale. I was thinking about that as I sketched costumes, and in addition to period and fantastic treatments, I did some sketches of the characters in modern dress. I really liked the effect, because it gave the art a much more graphic look which juxtaposed with the text in a way that pleased me. So I was happy to go that direction and save myself the massive trouble of costuming all my models.

Take us through your process of adapting a literary work. Where do you start?

Well, first I read it several times and compare different translations or editions. When I know which text Iím working from, and I have all the story details in my head pretty well, I start paring it down, removing as much as I can without violating the original story and tone. Before they were ďliteratureĒ, Beowulf and Shakespeare were performance pieces, so important things get repeated quite a bit to make sure the audience is following and appreciating them. I can cut a lot of that, as well as any third-person narration. I cut or smooth out anything that I think will trip up or confuse a modern reader. Once I have the text close to the length I want, I start designing the characters, backgrounds, and so on. Then I start laying out the panels. This is really the heart of the comic medium Ė choosing which moments to show, from what angle, in what relationship to the words and the other panels. I go through lots of rough sketches of the page layouts, and do some more editing of the text, and eventually I have a flow Iím happy with. Then whatís left is just a lot of drawing.

I noticed an illustrated travelogue from Italy on your Web site. Did you travel there to do research for The Merchant of Venice?

Yes, I went to Venice to draw the backgrounds on location. Best business trip ever!

There have been several graphic-format Shakespeare adaptations, including your version of King Lear, to come out in recent years. Do these works lend themselves particularly well to graphic adaptations, and do you find that teachers are using them in classrooms?

Well, they are great stories, so they make a great foundation for any sort of adaptation. I like to think that Shakespeare in particular works really well in comic form because you get to see the action, as the bard intended, but you also get to read and examine his exquisite words Ė which ultimately are what make him the greatest writer in the English language. Teachers are definitely using my books in the classroom, and usually with great success, from what Iíve heard. I get asked to do school visits a lot too, and itís great to engage kids directly in that way.

What comics do you read regularly?

Well, ďregularlyĒ implies a series, and Iíve never really liked ongoing episodic comics. I prefer the standalone graphic novel format, and I read those at a pretty steady rate. A few Iíve enjoyed recently are Sarah Varonís Robot Dreams, R. Crumbís Kafka, and Sturm & Tomassoís Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow.

Whatís next?

Iím just starting to get into production on The Odyssey. As Iím sure you can imagine, that one is going to take a while. In the meantime you can see what Iím up to on my sketch blog: www.garethhinds.com/blog

Anything else youíd like to add?

Since graphic novels take a long time to produce, itís unusually fortuitous timing that Merchant is my third one to be released in 12 months. Iím totally excited about it, and I hope people will like what Iíve done with it Ė and with the other classics Iíve tackled. Thanks for reading!