Mark Twain, Jean Morvan, Frederique Voulyze, Severine de Fevebvre. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Classics Illustrated Deluxe #4. Papercutz, 2009. Print.
Character- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer does a fantastic job of creating character, giving each one the unique voice it had in the original text. From Tom’s false sincerity to Huck’s boasts and brags, many lines of dialogue are taken from the original text to maintain the character fidelity. Le Fevebvre (whose name I won’t even try to pronounce) did a fantastic job with the stylized, almost manga-style full color illustrations, giving each character vastly different appearance, costume, and actions. The most obvious examples of this are Huck’s scavenged too-big top hat and tailcoat, giving him a unique look that makes him immediately distinguishable.
However, I share librarian Douglas Davey‘s concern that, “Visually, it is often difficult to distinguish among the supporting characters.” (You’ll have to scroll through a few reviews to get to his). So, although the Frenchman’s manga-style illustrations make for captivating and original iterations of our favorite Twain characters, the other Sam, Joe, and Johns Tom hangs with will be lost in the background. If you’re okay with that, then there is more than enough characterization here, possibly more so than in the original text!
Plot– This Classics Illustrated faithfully recounts the entire plot of Tom Sawyer down to excess scenes in which Huck and Tom argue about the best magical method for wart removal. As is to be expected from the series, it follows the story to the T (for Tom!). You will sometimes have to read pages more than once to keep up with the action and dialogue, and make sure you understand exactly what happened; between the irregular speech bubble layout and action filled, sweeping panels, it can be hard to pin down exactly did what to whom.
Setting- The setting in Twain’s novel is loving crafted, and in later works it becomes a major focus of the text. Here, Fevebvre’s art does the brunt of the work, depicting Aunt Polly’s house and the schoolhouse with as much historical accuracy as Tom’s shirt and slate. This rural town feels rural, and Tom’s fight with the “city-slicker” early on hints at larger class tension that adds to the feeling of community throughout the text. St. Petersburg felt like a small town, not a series of backdrops for Tom’s antics.
Style- The choice of eastern-style art with a distinctly American text was an interesting one. Add on top of that the fact that it was originally written in French, and the cultural layers get really confusing. However, I never felt like I was reading a translation, showing just how much time and effort went in to the English release. This is an important point, because often authorial style can be decimated by poor translation. The dialect is maintained lovingly, and every extra apostrophe and inverted sentence seems to fit. After a few pages of the manga artwork, it actually becomes a unique and dynamic way to look at Tom Sawyer. Manga (I should really do a review of a manga one of these days) makes use of altered character design, expression and impressionistic background alteration, and other meta-literary techniques to make the form a reflection of content. This is done less in Western art, which leads to more dialogue and narration/exposition-heavy text (see my review of The Hobbit to see why that isn’t always a good thing).
Theme- I’ll admit I’ve found it difficult at times to find themes in Twain’s work. However, I will say that I’ve always thought of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as a bastardization of the popular “school books” of the time (as explained in David Russell’s article “The History of Children’s Literature”); however, instead of placing the boys in a boarding school to have adventures, they’re placed in Missouri instead. The themes of the text involve coming-of-age, learning to be a more responsible member of the community, and that sometimes snooping around in a graveyard leads to thousands of dollars! (Maybe not that last one)
Viewpoint- The viewpoint is generally Tom’s, and we rarely go somewhere he doesn’t. The limited 3rd person offers no narration whatsoever, which is great for keeping readers in the world of the text. This book is aimed directly at people reading Tom Sawyer for the first time (or avid Twain collectors, I suppose). The limited text also allows readers who have difficulty with the written dialect (and if I remember correctly, that was everyone in my 10th grade English class struggling through Jim’s speech in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) work through it on a smaller scale, offering non-verbal cues to help support understanding of the new language that is rural, American English.
This book does a better job (in my opinion) than The Hobbit did of relating the original text to new readers. This might be the result of Twain’s novel just being better suited to the medium; Twain was a stage performer and comedian, Tolkien a linguist; I think we know who was more set of using written language. The art is captivating, the story faithfully recounted, and the multiple translations are done amazingly well, making the story and dialects easy to follow. This is how novel-to-graphic translations should be done, and I hope this is the standard for Classics Illustrated.