The Classic Illustrated series produces full colour graphic novel adaptations of classic literature ranging from The Wind and the Willows to Frankenstein to Through the Looking Glass. I believe the Deluxe versions of the Classic Illustrated series tend to look more like traditional comic books, whereas the regular Classic Illustrated books are just text with pictures, much like most kid books.
The first Classic Illustrated book that I ever read was The Wind and the Willows, which may have biased me towards expecting more out of this particular version. The Wind and the Willows had been done in graphic novel format, with beautiful drawings, truly bringing the book to life. Unfortunately Edgar Allan Poe’s work does not allow for the same sort of format, because it is not so much a narrative or story as it is poetry. For that reason, the layout of this book was done the only way it could be, which was having the poetry’s text on one page and then on the next page having an image relating to the text.
I’ve of course heard of Edgar Allan Poe, and read his famous Raven poem before, but I had never seen any other of his poems, which are also in this book. Despite a different style of the English language that we’re used to in the 21st century, the content lends itself to the modern world. Though I wonder if the same social stigmatisms that were attached to the raven back in Poe’s time still relates to today’s world. The idea of lost love that can plague a person, is a concept that is still common today. His other poems still have the dark sadness to them, Annabel Lee for instance is about a boy who recounts his experience by the sea and his love for Annabel Lee, who we find out in the end had died on the beach when she was still a little girl. Another story caught my attention, but it might’ve been the bright yellows that grabbed my attention. It was a story called Eldorado about this knight who had been searching for Eldorado (a fabled rich city) his whole life, but grew old, making his task more and more difficult. At the end of the story is sounds as though the knight has to search for Eldorado in death, and the last image is a haunting one of the knight climbing up into the sky, with skeletal remains below him that wears his and his horses’ armour. Presumably he has to die to get to Eldorado, which is a rather tragic end.
The artwork in this piece is done by Gahan Wilson, which has both its good and bad points. The elements that I do like is the author’s work of shading so that all colours appear darker. The yellow knight for instance is drawn with dark shading in his armour so that the yellow is not as vibrant as it would be if there no shading at all. The drawings themselves look simplistic, though. The features of the characters are like cartoon drawings, instead of the haunting realism that one would expect to accompany Poe’s work. The character in the first poem The Raven has large eyes, a small chin, a gigantic forehead and then the grow is rather large too, with gigantic claws. At the same time the largeness of the raven is more haunting especially as it grows bigger from one picture to the next. There are more detailed drawings in The City in the Sea, where Wilson really captures the skeletons and their tombs, and these drawings are considerably more realistic looking than his earlier images. The images in the sleeper are accompanied by large cartoon like rats, which again detracts away from the creepiness of the book. I do wonder who the audience of this book is supposed to be, if it is for kids then the artwork is tastefully done to make them not have horrible nightmares, but if this book was set for an older audience, then those unfamiliar with Poe’s work may not be drawn in by the drawings due to their timidity.