The london reading group of The Trollope Society met for a seminar on Dispossession the new graphic novel adaptation of John Caldigate by Simon Grennan. Dr Grennan himself gave the illustrated talk giving members of the society a preview of images from the new work, which is due to be published next year to mark Trollope’s bicentenary. Professor David Skilton, leading authority on Trollope’s work also took part in the presentation, explaining his role as advisor to the project.
Dr Grennan explained that he had been commissioned to produce the new book by the University of Leuven in Belgium where the graphic novel enjoys a very different position than it does in the UK. He explained that in the Francophone world, the graphic novel has the status of literature and that children graduate from comics to more serious adult themed (in all senses) graphic novels. It is not unusual, therefore, to find a graphic novel version of Camus’s L’Etranger on the best-seller lists.
In response to an audience question, Dr Grennan said that the market for graphic novels in the UK is less mature (again, in all senses) being predominantly a niche market with a younger target demographic (under age 30).
The new book is being produced in both French and English language versions using the same illustrations but, Grennan noted, with rather larger speech bubbles for the French edition, which will also include an academic foreword which will not feature in the English language version.
The speakers explained that the most significant challenge in adapting the book for the graphic novel format was how to represent the author’s voice. Trollope’s narrator interventions are well known and often shed interesting lights on the characters and plots of his novels. In a radio play adaptation, which Dr Grennan used as an example, this can be achieved by having a narrator speak, but the illustrations of a graphic novel cannot include an author figure. That would breach one of the conventions of the form.
Dr Grennan explained that the approach they had taken to address this conundrum was, in fact, to play with the rules of the graphic novel form a little. The graphic novel is essentially cinematic in its treatment of a story – cutting from long shot to close up and showing different points of view. in Dispossession, Dr Grennan has subverted this convention and maintained a consistent distance from the action in the illustrations – all figures are full length, no close ups – thereby conveying a sense of authorial/narrator distance from the action.
Some in the audience posed robust questions as to whether the graphic novel was simply a cut down version for people who could not cope with the real thing. Dr Grennan responded that it would be more accurate to think of it as an adaptation of the original which can inform the reading of the original novel in a similar way that a film or television adaptation might cause a reader of Trollope to review their take on the novel. It is not a competitor for the novel but more complementary to it but must also stand alone on its merits within the graphic novel form.
This, Dr Grennan explained, meant that while he had conflated certain characters from the original novel in the interests of condensing it into the shorter graphic form, he had also felt free to add in elements, such as Aboriginal and Chinese presence in the Australian sections of the book which added to the verisimilitude of the portrayal of these scenes for a 21st century reader who would be aware of them having been in Australia at that time, in a way that Trollope’s audience would have been unlikely to be (which explains the absence of such characters from Trollope’s original).
The discussion was lively and I am certainly looking forward to the publication of the graphic novel next year.