There are plenty of graphic novel adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, and both the bard and his characters have featured in other derivative works – Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman springs to mind, not least because of the extraordinarily high benchmark he and Charles Vess set with A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
So it’s a brave writer of comics who sets out to do something different with Shakespeare’s characters. We have no reservation in placing Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col in this camp – they must have testicles of titanium to feel they could pull this off.
Kill Shakespeare draws a good handful of Shakespeare’s lead characters into a single story. The crux of the tale is a power struggle: a god-like, possibly mythical William Shakespeare sits at the centre of the universe he created, as two factions of his characters (loosely divided between good and evil) are looking to hunt him down.
On one side there’s Juliet Capulet, a rebel with a cause, looking to bring Shakespeare back to lead an uprising against the oppressive masters of their world. At her side are Falstaff and Othello.
On the other hand, King Richard wants to find Shakespeare too. He hopes to steal the bard’s magic quill, which he believes holds the ultimate power of his world. He’s in an uneasy alliance with the Macbeths, and appears to have Iago on his side – though whether that’s a benefit or a hindrance is, of course, known only to Iago.
Stuck between these two camps is Hamlet, exiled from Denmark and as indecisive as ever. Both sides believe Hamlet to be instrumental to finding Shakespeare, and a flight and fight plot ensues. Hamlet is stuck between playing out his destiny and making a decision for himself – same old Hamlet.
Some knowledge of Shakespeare’s core texts is clearly helpful here, though it uses these as a springboard rather than a firm grounding. Clearly there are some characters here who really ought to be dead.
It’s worth shrugging off the anomalies though. Lift this layer of responsibility from your shoulders and you’re left with a violent, exciting rollercoaster ride, as Hamlet dithers his way through dealings with Richard and Juliet.
While the quality isn’t quite up to Gaiman’s, it’s well written. McCreery and Del Col have a flair for bringing a simplified Shakespearean patter to the voices of their characters. And while Andy Belanger is no Charles Vess, his characters remain classic and recognisable depictions of Shakespeare’s creations.
Quite what an English Literature teacher would make of it, I’m really not sure – perhaps one could drop me an email and let me know. I found it had something of the fanfic about it, not because it’s amateurish – far from it – but more because of its mash-up methods.
This detracts from its air of respectability and takes away some of the depth. But as a way of turning Shakespeare’s characters into a modern and refreshing take on their circumstances, it makes for a fascinating read.
Artwork by Andy Belanger, ©/courtesy Kill Shakespeare Entertainment