Our book today is a “graphic adaptation,” what once would have been known as an “illustrated classic,” of Shirley Jackson’s best-known little piece of work, “The Lottery.” It’s Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery: A Graphic Adaptation, done with marvelous restrained mastery by Miles Hyman, Shirley Jackson’s grandson, who opens the production with a few remarks about the trickiness of adapting what he calls a “family heirloom”:
For me, as an artist who has spent much of his professional life adapting novels and stories into graphic form, it would stand to reason that my grandmother’s harrowing tale should entice over the years – not only because … it had become a sort of family heirloom but because of how precise and nuanced the adaptation of this powerful piece of fiction would have to be to succeed. The story is such a perfect apparatus that it leaves little room for meddling. Some books sprawl and dream and carry on in ways that seem to invite imagery in spades. “The Lottery” does none of that – it is a no-nonsense, largely hermetic structure, words joined with a jeweler’s precision.
The stark, elegant simplicity of Jackson’s story seems at first glance like a poor fit to the medium of a comic book (unless by “comic book” you mean something like Lesbian Croatian Cancer Survivors, which was spottily written and ineptly drawn by angry, talentless grievance monsters who’ve been working on the second issue since 2007; I don’t). After all, until the story’s violent climax, the whole thing consists of a bunch of people standing around talking. They’re not radioactive people. They’re not sworn to save a world that hates and fears them. Hell, they don’t even talk that much.
But Hyman’s artwork saves the day. The story is rendered in simple, straightforward, almost photographic panels, and the characters all look like convincingly foursquare denizens of the 1950s – just exactly the kind of people Jackson hated and loved to torment in her fiction. Hyman makes the wise decision to drain almost all the color and motion out of these pages. I once read a “graphic interpretation” of The Scarlet Letter that took the opposite approach; I kept expecting Hester Prynne (whose scarlet letter wasn’t so much an A as a double D) to burst out of her sensible smock and lay waste to the village with her heat vision.
Nothing like that happens here. Instead, we get sharp angles, brutal sunlight, and, in the climactic panels, a flat, raw orange monochrome that somehow uncannily isolates the barbarity of what’s taking place. After my first read-through of this book, I sought out as much of Hyman’s other work as I could find, so I’m confident in saying: this is, perhaps fittingly, by far his best. If all “graphic adaptations” of literature were this good, those old “illustrated classics” yellowing in my closet would be worth another look.
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