Over the past several years, I’ve been impressed with many of the books coming out of First Second, which is part of Macmillan. They’ve published the volumes in Grady Klein’s Lost Colony series, Yang’s American Born Chinese, Sfar’s Klezmer: Tales of the Wild East, Trodheim’s A.L.I.E.E.E.N., Lat’s Kampung Boy, Amir and Khalil’s Zahra’s Paradise, as well as a variety of other notable titles (and by very prominent artists). This fall the publisher will be releasing two new books, Mark Siegel’s Sailor Twain: Or, the Mermaid in the Hudson and Hope Larson’s adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I have the good fortune of being on First Second’s mailing list, and every now and again I will get a few of their titles through the mail. The other day I received both the Siegel and Larson books, and I immediately began reading them.
I was intrigued by Sailor Twain when I first saw it listed in the First Second catalogue several months ago. From the look of it, it appeared to be a book about Mark Twain, in some way. ”Twain” was in the title, it had something to do with riverboats, and it takes place in the late 1800s. I had asked the publicity person at First Second about this, and she told me that it had nothing to do with Mark Twain. (I have a particular interest in the adaptation and uses of Twain in comics.) Then the other day I was listening to the latest Previews podcast from Comic Geek Speak, and one of the guys there highlighted the solicit for Sailor Twain that’s in the current August catalogue. He said he was interested in this book and that it was about Mark Twain. I doubted his information–and, it turns out, he was definitely wrong on the Samuel Clemens connection–but I still had an interest in the book. As fate had it, I received a review copy of it not even a week after listening to that podcast. Although there are a couple of allusions to Mark Twain, he’s not really a part of the book. But that’s no problem, since Siegel’s story is engaging and complex, sustaining itself with enough mystery and suspense that it doesn’t really need Clemens to draw attention to itself. This is a wonderful graphic novel, which got its start as a webcomic, and it’s one that I feel that I need to go back and reread a couple more times just to make sure I get its various nuances. It has everything to do with riverboat culture along the Hudson, mythical lore, relationships and alienation, the blurring of fact and fiction, and the significance of storytelling. In essence, it’s definitely something to read come October.
The other First Second book I received, Hope Larson’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time (actually, an FSG book, although FSG distributes First Second, I think), is also worth reading. I just began it yesterday, and so far it’s been engaging. As I suggested in my earlier comments on Twain in comics, I’ve a special interest in comics adaptations of non-comic texts, so this graphic reworking of L’Engle’s classic sci-fi book is particularly appealing. The problem for me in approaching this as an adapted text is that I have not read the original A Wrinkle in Time, so I’m not sure what to compare it to, or against. I’ve asked my wife, who is a dedicated science fiction fan, about this book, but she tells me that although it’s been on her “to read” list for years, she’s never gotten around to reading it. On the other hand, my unfamiliarity with L’Engle’s original work might work in my favor. One of the things that happens when you experience an adapted work, either consciously or unconsciously, is that you measure the success or your enjoyment of the narrative alongside the original. I’m definitely not one of those who believes that a “good” adaptation is one sticks most closely to the original source. In fact, often I’m of the opposite mind: that the most engaging adaptations are those that take the original text and represents it in curious and new ways. This is done all of the time with Tom Pomplun’s Graphic Classics series of books, and that’s why I always look forward to new volumes from that publisher. So in not knowing A Wrinkle in Time, I’m coming to Larson’s adaptation as a newbie, someone without expectations, even unrealized or unsuspected ones. I’m more than a third of the way through this graphic novel, and I plan on finishing it up this weekend. So far, my assessment of this book is a big thumb’s up…that, and a newly sparked desire to read some of Hope Larson’s other works, such as Gray Horses and Salamander Dreams (books that I have, but ones I’ve yet to pick up). And this is another benefit of having recently received the upcoming First Second titles.