After enjoying Nancy Butler and Sonny Liew’s well-executed adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Sense & Sensibility” last year, I was interested to see Butler and Janet Lee’s take on Austen’s “Emma.” There’s a lot to like here for readers that appreciate adaptations and classic novels, but it takes a while for the book to warm up and hit its stride.
The slow start, in an age of short attention spans, seems deadly. For the reader willing to invest a little time wading through the less inviting and heavy text early on, however, it does deliver an interesting read. By the end, I found myself thoroughly immersed. Though it took a few pages to get the balance right, Butler seems to know what we absolutely need and what can be left on the cutting room floor. By the last page, I was engaged and disappointed that the issue ended, which is always a good benchmark for an ongoing comic.
Janet K. Lee’s art is lovely and well fits Butler’s very literal adaptation of the material. The character designs and attention to detail for things like clothing choice and hairstyle all work well, and the storytelling, though simple, is always clear, which is important. That said, though Lee’s work is fun and pretty and very consistent here, it’s a step down from the work she was able to do on “The Return of The Dapper Men.” In “Dapper Men,” Lee seemed to be free in her creativity, in her layouts, and her use of mixed media. Here, through no fault of her own, she’s reigned in quite tightly by the realism the story requires and, as such, the story lacks the same unbridled enthusiasm her “Dapper Men” work so embodied. There’s a stiffness and a sameness, a uniformity of color and line weight that disappointed me. The style fits the story well, but ultimately it’s a bit of a let down comparatively. The cover, for example, exhibits much more freedom and soul, and more of what I was hoping to see inside, than what we actually get, which is pretty and more than serviceable, but a bit one-note.
Overall, this is working well as an adaptation. Though I was disappointed in comparison to Lee’s other work, the art is still lovely and unique. For any fan of Austen or adaptations in general, there’s a lot to enjoy here, and even more to anticipate in the next issue.