Each physical release of Thunder Brother: Soap Division contains a complete episode plus previously unseen back-up strips or "extras" as I sometimes refer to them. The new issue (five, if you're wondering) features a strip called XXIII which is my interpretation Shakespeare's twenty-third sonnet. I originally produced it as a two-colour strip as part of a project that artist and writer ILYA was putting together. For the new issue, I re-coloured the artwork and also ran a text piece kindly provided by ILYA contextualising the strip and elaborating on the project. Because I had to cut it down slightly to make it fit, I'm printing it here so you can read it in it's entirety.
The original two-colour version of the first page
SONNET 23 – page performance by Paul B Rainey and ILYA
"GRAPHIC SONNETS" (aka Shakespeare On Love) is an ongoing editorial project of mine. It arose out of my time putting together 3 (annual) volumes of The Mammoth Book of BEST NEW MANGA (“BNM”) for UK publishers Constable & Robinson, and a stint as adapting artist for Self Made Hero’s Manga Shakespeare version of KING LEAR. I wanted to be able to secure and offer a better page rate to comics creators than was possible working for BNM. And it had felt a tall order crunching down one of the Bard’s longer plays (the greatest tragedy ever written), even into 200 pages of comics at a suitably ‘manga-esque’ tempo.
So I thought: why not instead try adapting Shakespeare’s Sonnets? You could take the 14-line verse format and give it 8 pages – using the comic strip format to its fullest potential in terms of both pacing and imaginative setting. Relax a bit. Storytell the hell out of it.
The words were 400 years old but ripe for a new audience. They explored a universal concept – LOVE – and in a startling variety of ways. Like with his plays, the language of the sonnets is best understood when seen or heard performed (In this instance the CD release When Love Speaks – 7243 5 57321 2 5, EMI 2002 – proved invaluable. I can’t recommend it highly enough). And as with my KING LEAR I knew that it could be performed, next best thing, on paper. Free adaptation into comics would let the exquisite language live again, in the medium best suited to modern readers.
The series book proposal was to take a selection of 10-12 sonnets per graphic album of between 80 to 96 full colour pages. Developing a scenario for each adaptation, I would commission different artists as seemed appropriate to the theme or style. Following BNM my rolodex of international comics talent fairly bulged. I started out with four pilot sonnets. The other artists I initially approached were: Ivy Ling (aka Rainbow Buddy) – China: Robert Deas – UK: Satanasov – Bulgaria: and Paul B. Rainey – UK.
I chose Paul to adapt with me SONNET 23, which might be interpreted as a tale of unrequited love: the love that dare not squeak its name – if not in the homodox Wildean sense. Now you can finally see the results…
In the in-between years I’ve taken and showed the proposal and the four pilot adaptations far and wide. So far, unfortunately, no book publishers have bitten. In the midst of the ongoing recession no-one is much willing to innovate in publishing or else take the chance, however much they might say they like what they see. There’s not much that I can point at to guarantee them solid sales success – no nice and neat bandwagon ready to jump on or knock Fifty Shades silly out of. There’s been very little precedent for lyric verse adapted into comic strip, unless perhaps you count Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias in Marvel’s Avengers at the end of the very first Age of Ultron! Oh, and WB Yeats in The Incredible Hulk!! (oh yes. Good old Roy ‘The Boy’ Thomas). Luckily though, through Paul’s good graces we can at least – and at last – share this one particular poem with you.
If you like it, then keep your fingers crossed that one day I can share the other sonnets with you, and commission more for introductory and future volumes. After all, Shakespeare wrote over 150 of them! And Paul? There might even be a sequel to this storyline among them…
"This works – lovely interpretations that should see a wider audience"
Dr. Melanie Gibson,
Senior Lecturer at Northumbria University researching and teaching Children's Literature and Media, literacy consultant to libraries for graphic novels since 1993
"For visual learners, graphic sonnets delight the eye and reach pupils who otherwise might never engage with the magic of Shakespeare."
Jane Bentley, Deputy Headteacher – Modern English School, Cairo
Ex-Headteacher – Peter Gladwin School, Brighton"
The full colour version that appears in Thunder Brother: Soap Division issue 5
You can buy issue five of Thunder Brother: Soap Division for £3 (including P&P to the UK) by selecting the Paypal link below or contacting me. Back issues can be purchased from the shop.