Friday, November 23, 2007

Manga Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet

Manga Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet
illustrated by Sonia Long
Amulet Books, 2007
2007 Cybils Graphic Novel nominee

Library copy. Due today. No renewal possible, which means someone has it reserved. I hope the person who has it renewed is a high school student who desperately needs to read Shakespeare in manga in order to access and comprehend this play. Better yet, I hope the person who has renewed it is a high school English teacher who is gathering all possible versions of Romeo and Juliet in order to meet the needs of every learner in her/his class.

It is what the title says it is: Romeo and Juliet in manga. The setting is present day Tokyo, where two teenagers, Romeo and Juliet, fall in love. Their rival families are still at war. But Romeo is a rock idol, and Juliet is a Shibuya girl (a Japanese "Goth Valley Girl"). Tybalt is tattooed with dragons and Mercutio has dredlocks. Friar John and Friar Laurence are Shinto monks.

Shakespeare's exact words are in speech bubbles rather than lines of poetry, while the story is played out in the classic conventions of manga (as defined by Scott McCloud in his book MAKING COMICS): the iconic characters with simple emotive faces; a strong sense of place; frequent use of wordless panels that prompt readers to "assemble scenes from fragmentary visual information"; small real world details; "various emotionally expressive effects such as expressionistic backgrounds, montages and subjective caricatures"; and "subjective motion -- using streaked backgrounds to make readers feel like they were moving WITH a character, instead of just watching motion from the sidelines."

If you think you know Shakespeare, you must check this out and think again. If you want to know Shakespeare, you should check this out because it will give you a different way into the canon of English Literature. And if you need to know Shakespeare for the test on Monday, this seems like a much better way than CliffsNotes to get a unique understanding of the story.

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