Jane Austen – Emma (Marvel Classics)

When I first found out that Marvel was publishing comic adaptations of Jane Austen’s work, I got excited and sceptical. Pride and Prejudice turned out really nice, however, and Sense and Sensibility absolutely blew me away. Marvel picked the perfect woman for the job of writing the adaptation, Nancy Butler, who makes the stories come to life without long narratives or exlpanations. While she’s been doing all of the Austen graphic novels so far, the artist has been a different one for each novel. And with Emma, I’ve been disappointed for the first time.

by Jane Austen

Art: Janet Lee
Adaptation: Nancy Butler

120 pages
published: 2011
by: Marvel

My rating: 4.5/10

First sentence: Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, had achieved nearly twenty-one years with very little to distress of vex her.

Beautiful, clever, rich – and single – Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protegee Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected. With its imperfect but charming heroine and its witty and subtle exploration of relationships, Emma is often seen as Jane Austen’s most flawless work.

I’m not going as far as to call myself an Austenite but I do enjoy Austen’s books and re-read them quite a lot. The transition into movies and graphic novels works surprisingly well and her characters feel as alive today as they must have in the 19th century. To call Emma “one of my favorite Austens” seems a little silly, seeing as Jane Austen only ever finished six novels, but this one is definitely up in my top 3. Naturally, I was excited to get my hands on the graphic novel, even though the cover already made me a little cautious.

This is surely a question of taste but I didn’t warm to the drawing style at all. In fact, I quite hated it. The characters just look ugly. The have round blobs on their necks and if it weren’t for different hair colors and styles I would have had a hard time knowing Emma from Harriet or Mrs Weston from Jane Fairfax. And I’ve read the novel many times! That’s a clear flaw in a comic book, if you ask me.

Plot-wise, many things and details have been left out but all the essentials are still there. My compliments to Nancy Butler who really has her Austen down and manages to deliver all the information needed to understand the story and watch the characters grow. Emma, in particular, didn’t lack any of the qualities I know from the well-beloved book. Mr Knightley may get a little less screen-time than I liked and Miss Bates’ silliness wasn’t quite as pronounced as in the novel or some movie adaptations. But it’s all there, more or less.

So why am I feeling so negatively about this comic book? It’s really just the drawings. While I devoured the other two Austen adaptations by Marvel in one go, I caught myself drifting from reading Emma, putting it down for a day or two and picking it up hopefully, only to sigh at the weird, shapeless lumps of characters and the pastel colors of Janet Lee. Sadly, this was my least favorite Austen experience (concerning the comics) so far but who knows? It might be your favorite…

THE GOOD: Fantastic adaptation. Even if you’ve never read Jane Austen, you should be able to follow the story and characters easily.
THE BAD: Drawing style and colors – I personally hated them.
THE VERDICT: Still a recommendable Austen adaptation but leaf through the first pages before you buy to see if you can bear the drawings.

MY RATING: 4,5/10

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