An Exclusive Look at the Gorgeous, Haunting Graphic Novel Adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale


From the TV series’ upcoming third season to the long-awaited second book, The Handmaid’s Tale is everywhere in a big way this year. But Margaret Atwood’s iconic dystopian story is also getting new life as a sumptuous new graphic novel—and ahead of its release this week, io9 has a look inside.

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8 Brilliant Graphic Novel Adaptations of Classic Books

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Any adaptation of a book can never truly replace the original work, but it’s often revelatory to experience a story in a new medium; it’s like seeing, if only imperfectly, through someone else’s eyes.

The rise of comics as a “respectable” medium is a case in point: Margaret Atwood’s 1986 dystopia The Handmaid’s Tale is receiving a high-profile graphic novel adaption this month, and it’s far from the first prose classic to be reinterpreted by noteworthy artists. These adaptations aim to honor and embellish rather than replace the books on which they are based—because how could they? In creating visual versions of classic works, the brilliant artists behind them allow us to see, literally and figuratively, the stories we love from new angles.

Here are 8 book-to-graphic novel adaptations that serve as impressive companions to their source material.

The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel, by Margaret Atwood and Renée Nault
Almost a quarter century after its publication, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is having a moment: the TV series continues to widespread acclaim, and Atwood herself recently stunned readers with the announcement of a forthcoming sequel. More than any of that, the book’s themes of subjugation are at least as relevant and biting as ever, while its humanity has never been more essential. Artist Renée Nault has been collaborating with Atwood on this new graphic novel adaptation, telling the story through stunning watercolor art that captures the novel’s visceral emotional tone in a new way.

To Kill a Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel, by Harper Lee and Fred Fordham
Sixty years ago and today, we could all stand to consider and reconsider the lessons of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Its themes of understanding and compassion are no less relevant or universal in 2019, and Fordham’s art honors the original novel while casting new light on the world of Scout, Gem, Boo Radley, and Atticus. Fordham visuals the book in a classic style that feels appropriate to a story of childlike reverie concealing undercurrents of racism, injustice, and heroism in a sleepy southern town.

Monster: A Graphic Novel, by Walter Dean Myers, Dawud Anyabwile, and Guy A. Sims
Walter Dean Myers’ complex 1999 novel follows 16-year-old Steve Harmon, an African-American amateur filmmaker awaiting trial for the robbery and murder of a bodega owner. The twisty-turny narrative explores issues of crime, race, and peer pressure as Steve documents his own circumstances in ways that leave his guilt or innocence—and even the notion of what it means to be innocent—up to the reader. This striking, monochrome take on the story adds an extra layer of complexity: it’s a visual adaptation of a novel about a young man who imagines his life as a movie.

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, by Damian Duffy, Octavia E. Butler, and John Jennings
It’s tempting to imagine how we might have fared during the times of our ancestors: could we survive the past? Would we be welcome? For Black Americans, this is an idea that’s particularly fraught, and one that Octavia Butler explored in one of her earliest and most resonant novels. Dana, a young black writer living in California of the 1970s, is transported to the pre-Civil War South, where she encounters both the slaves from whom she’s descended and a white plantation owner who is also one of her ancestors. It’s a frequently harrowing exploration of the past’s lingering grip on our present and future. Duffy and Jennings’ award-winning graphic novel adaptation narrows the novel’s focus by emphasizing Dana’s struggle to save herself in a way that brings a renewed power to the story.

American Gods Volume 1: Shadows, by Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell, Scott Hampton, and Colleen Doran, and Walt Simonson
Artist P. Craig Russell has collaborated with Neil Gaiman on any number of projects, including an earlier adaptation of the writer’s beloved fantasy Coraline. Here, the two are joined by the similarly accomplished Scott Hampton to tell the story of ex-con Shadow and Mr. Wednesday, a strange traveller who happens to be the Odin of myth. Russell and Hampton remain largely faithful to the original novel, bringing it to life with gorgeous artwork in this first of three volumes that will ultimately adapt the entire tale. The two are joined by several notable guest artists (including Colleen Doran and Walter Simonson) who provide art for flashbacks and side-stories in addition to alternate cover art.

The Giver: The Graphic Novel, by Lois Lowry and P. Craig Russell
Lowry’s classic 1993 dystopian children’s novel introduces Jonas, selected to be the Receiver of Memory—a vessel for the thoughts and feelings of earlier generations—in a pharmaceutically control world that exists without pain and strife, but also lacking depth of emotion. The story has been adapted into a variety of formats, with varying degrees of success, but Russell’s art truly brings it to life, and includes important scenes left out of other adaptations. He makes excellent literal use of the novel’s concept of a colorless world, using color less and less sparingly as the story develops.

Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation, by Ari Folman, Anne Frank, and David Polonsky
The director of the 2008 Israeli animated war documentary Waltz with Bashir adapts the story of Anne Frank alongside that film’s art director, David Polonsky (the two also produced the graphic novel version of their quasi-documentary film). That art style is vivid, bright, and generally appropriate for kids, placing an emphasis on the comedy and charm of Anne’s telling of her life story, diving deep into her mind to recreate a teenage girl’s mundane world, then piercing it through with moments of incredible upheaval and horror. As in the original book, the unremarkable, day-to-day humanity of Anne’s story makes the injustice she suffered through all the more poignant—and universal.

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel, by by Madeleine L’Engle and Hope Larson
Cartoonist and writer Larson’s resume is peppered with varied and complex female protagonists, making her a perfect choice to adapt L’Engle’s cosmic coming-of-age story for its 50th anniversary. “Difficult” Meg Murry, her brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe set out on a journey across universes to save Meg’s father and, ultimately, the world. Along the way, Meg matures into adolescence and faces conflicts filled with meaning and purpose. Larson’s blue-toned, soft-lined art never lets us lose sight of the human characters at the core of the wild adventure at hand.

What’s your favorite book-to-graphic-novel adaptation?

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After The Handmaid’s Tale: 7 Recent, Essential Feminist Dystopias

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

No one wants to live in a dystopia, but we’re certainly living in the golden age of feminist dystopian novels. That fact probably (definitely) doesn’t speak well of the real world that’s given birth to all of these extraordinary and disturbing novels, but even the grimmest story can give us a hope of finding our way out of the darkness way out of the darkness—even if only by offering a clear view of the road we’re on.

Though it wasn’t the first book of its kind, more than thirty years after it was first published, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is still unquestionably the most iconic example of the form of the form, so much so that later works are inevitably compared to the 1985 novel (later a film and currently an award-winning TV series). Given its enduring success, and with so many of its descendants firing readers’ darkest imaginations, it was both a big surprise and only logical when, just last week, Atwood announced plans for a followup to her genre-defining work. Arriving next fall, The Testaments will pick up the story where The Handmaid’s Tale left off, revealing what happened to Offred through the eyes and testimonies of three women of Gilead.

Of course, in the years between the release of The Handmaid’s Tale and its sequel, many other novelists have trod similar ground, exploring the worst of present-day society through a speculative lens—and some of the best of them have been published over just the past two years. Here are seven successors to The Handmaid’s Tale, each essential in its own way—even if they’re all frequently a little too real.

The Power, by Naomi Alderman
As women enter puberty in Naomi Alderman’s breakout 2017 novel, they begin to develop a power that allows them to deliver something like an electric shock. It’s new and mysterious, and it changes the balance of power the world over, almost overnight. Margaret Atwood served as Alderman’s mentor on the novel, so the legacy of The Handmaid’s Tale is understandably even more pronounced within its pages then the mere genre similarities would suggest. After their powers manifest, women all over the world start fighting back at their male oppressors, and, for a time, the book feels less like a dystopia than a fantasy. Before long, however, the men become frightened, and begin to fight back, even as some women abuse their newfound gifts. At its core, this novel is as a thrilling story as it is a compelling thought experiment, exploring what would happen if and when the tables were turned and women held all the power.

Hazards of Time Travel, by Joyce Carol Oates
With a literary legacy in league with Atwood’s, Joyce Carol Oates this year makes an unexpected detour into the dystopian with her latest novel, about a young woman in the very near future whose willingness to question an intellectually repressive government sees her exiled to the past via time travel technology. Specifically, she is sent to Wisconsin in the late 1950s, a time and place in which examples of female deference to authority were easy to find, and those who acted out were quickly pushed back into live. Oates’ novel is ultimately about the past’s hold on our present and future, and the ways in which that grip can make progress fleeting.

An Excess Male, by Maggie Shen King
Modern-day China’s one-child policy, a perhaps well-intended means of controlling population growth, has had unintended consequences. Combined with a strong cultural preference for male children as heirs, it has created tens of millions of heterosexual men with no prospects for marriage. That gender disparity is only expected to grow. Maggie Shen King centers her take on the future around the fallout from this policy on a single family—May-ling and her three husbands, one of whom is gay, and another of whom has kept his disability a closely-guarded secret. It’s a clever reversal on the form, both an odd sort of romance and a pointed look at gender norms—particularly in China—in a future when women have become prized commodities.

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, by Meg Elison
Though very different in tone and plot, Meg Elison’s 2016 novel is also of a piece with An Excess Male: they’re both stories about an overabundance of men. In the wake of a devastating plague, an unnamed (or many-named) midwife wanders for years from her home in San Francisco, across a western United States in which there are 10 men for every woman. Childbirth has become deadly for mother and child, and the resulting chaos has created a landscape in which gender norms are even more rigidly enforced—and one in which men are desperate to take control of the remaining women. The protagonist—the strong-willed, middle-aged, bisexual midwife—offers a hint of hope in a grim future.

Before She Sleeps, by Bina Shah
In contrast to the two aforementioned novels, Pakistani writer Bina Shah’s newest approaches gender roles from a South Asian perspective, imagining a future city in which generations of gender selection, war, and disease have drastically reduced the population of women in proportion to men. Shah uses this scenario to point a magnifying glass at modern cultural practices like veiling, gender seclusion, and reproductive control, placing them in a future when female scarcity has replaced religious authority as an excuse for male control.

Red Clocks, by Leni Zumas
There’s not a lot of science fiction at work in Zumas’ speculative novel, which is what makes it so very disturbing. Based on modern-day, real-world proposals, Red Clocks images a United States in the aftermath of a Personhood Amendment to the Constitution that outlaws abortion entirely and grants embryos full citizenship (sound familiar?). This plausible future/present is explored through the experiences of four women: a high-school teacher trying to have a baby, a mother of two in a disintegrating marriage, a young woman who accidentally becomes pregnant and has nowhere to turn, and an herbalist who is arrested for her work. Zumas approaches these intersecting stories with humanity and a sharp eye toward the pressures facing by women in America.

Vox, by Christina Dalcher
Dr. Jean McClellan, a neurolinguist, wakes up to a world in which women are permitted to speak no more than 100 words per day on pain of electric shock. As dystopian science fiction goes, the concept sounds a bit extreme, but author Dalcher is using it as a vehicle to talk about the silencing of women’s voices—a much more down-to-earth phenomenon. The book begins grimly, but becomes a satisfying thriller after men show up at Dr. McClellan’s door begging for her help and expertise. At great risk, Jean seizes the opportunity to reclaim her own voice and help boost those of other women.

Preorder Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, available in September 2019.

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