Tag Archives: Comics

Manga Classics: Les Misérables (Review)

Les Misérables Manga Classics

The Manga Classics adaptation of Les Misérables turns out to be a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the novel. Very little is altered except for streamlining, and a lot more is included than I was expecting.

Art

It’s a modern adaptation in manga style. SunNeko Lee makes some really interesting choices with her character designs, taking different stylistic approaches with each. Valjean and Javert are very realistic, for instance, while the Thénardiers are caricatures, and Marius, Cosette and Éponine are drawn in a more shoujo style with big, expressive eyes. It helps to convey personality instantly, as well as keeping them visually distinct in the black and white art.

Story

It has a lot more space to breathe than either Classics Illustrated version, and Crystal Silvermoon makes use of it to make Fantine, Marius and Cosette full characters rather than merely incidentals in Jean Valjean’s story.

Sometimes the transitions can be a bit choppy, which wouldn’t be a problem except for the added complications of the format.

Format

The format is a little wonky. Despite being an English-language production, it’s presented with right-to-left pages and panel arrangements, as if it were adapted from Japanese. That in itself isn’t a problem — I’ve read plenty of manga that way — but the story is choppy enough that there are places where I had to do a double-take before I realized that no, I hadn’t read that in the wrong order, it just didn’t flow.

This is further complicated in the digital edition, where (at least on ComiXology) you still flip pages to the right, but of course the panels proceed to the left. Guided View mostly avoids this, as it not only shows panels one at a time, it will often split large panels in such a way as to send you to the earlier word balloon first.

Extras

The artist and writer each say a bit about the process, appropriately enough in essay and comic strip form. There are also a couple of joke strips about Little Cosette that could be fun as a regular feature.

Digital edition on ComiXology

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Les Misérables: Classics Illustrated’s Original Comic Book (Review)

The Les Misérables comic book that you can read digitally isn’t the first adaptation Classics Illustrated did. It’s a completely new adaptation done in 1961 as the older art style had fallen out of favor.

Les Mis Classics Illustrated Splash Page PanelI found a copy of the original 1943 adaptation on eBay, and I’m actually quite impressed. The storytelling works a lot better than the later adaptation for one simple reason: Instead of trying to present serious literature, it simply tells an adventure story. The themes are still there, but in the background instead of in your face.

This does mean that some episodes, like the rescue on board the ship Orion, get a lot more attention than they probably need. But if you’re going to focus exclusively on Valjean, this approach makes much better use of the medium. Besides, those scenes include the rebellion, which I’ve noticed seems to get shorted in a lot of adaptations.

The comic’s writer isn’t credited (only Victor Hugo), but an article from the later edition names her as Evelyn Goodman. Her script uses narration sparingly, allowing the visuals and dialog to tell the story. It’s less wordy than a Silver Age superhero book, and in some ways feels more modern. It’s also a lot more cohesive a narrative than the later version, which is full of odd gaps in the structure.

I can see that Rolland Livingstone’s art would look outdated a generation later, but from 70 years on, it’s a great example of Golden Age comic book art. I was caught right away by the splash page, in which factory smoke forms the spectral image of Inspector Javert. His art is detailed where it serves the story, sparse where it doesn’t, and never static.

Les Mis Classics Illustrated JavertThough Javert’s perpetual sneer does get old after a while. Seriously, he has one expression.

Unfortunately, the story just stops after Javert’s suicide (like the Neeson/Rush movie). I suppose it’s partly the result of focusing on the adventure — an old man deciding he doesn’t want to live anymore makes for good drama and tragedy, but isn’t exactly rip-roaring.

And Fantine’s plight is reduced to her getting into a fight when she’s fired. Obviously a 1940s comic book aimed at kids isn’t going to tell you about her ultimate career path, but even the 1937 radio play managed to convey her descent into poverty without getting specific.

Overall, though, it’s a pity that this version is out of print. Digital comics have made the newer edition easy to find and buy, but the fact that I could find this one at all is a testament to the value of physical media and the collector’s market.

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Classics Illustrated: Les Misérables Comic Book (Review)

Classics Illustrated: Les MisérablesI recently discovered that the Classics Illustrated adaptation of Les Misérables is available digitally through ComiXology. For $3.99, of course I had to check it out.

It’s a very faithful adaptation. At 45 pages, it’s also very abbreviated, focusing even more tightly on Jean Valjean than the Jordan/Perkins film did. Still, it manages to get a surprising amount of detail into that space. For one thing, this was done in the era when comics would cram as much story into a panel as they could, using narration and speech/thought balloons to make a single panel do double or even triple duty. In many cases, they actually quoted lines from the novel. Continue reading

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