Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: Guest Bloggers Trina Robbins & Anne Timmons Chat about Gothic Classics: Day 17 Giveaway!

Think of Northanger Abbey in a graphic novel format with all of its energy and Gothic allusions visually popping right off the page, and you will have a good notion of what author Trina Robbins and illustrator Anne Timmons have created in their frightfully enchanting version of Northanger Abbey included in Gothic Classics: Graphic Classics Volume Fourteen. Today both author and illustrator are joining us to chat about their inspiration and the design procession of transforming Jane Austen’s Gothic parody into a graphic novel. Enjoy!  

Writing Jane

by Trina Robbins

Imagine you’re a Jane Austen fan (not hard to do!) and you write graphic novels — and a publisher asks you to adapt a Jane Austen novel into graphic novel form.  The result, of course, is hog heaven!

I have actually adapted TWO Jane Austen books into graphic novel form.  The first, about five years ago, was for Scholastic, for their series of graphic novel adaptations for classrooms. I picked one of my two favorite Austen novels, Emma, to adapt into a twenty-seven page graphic novel.  But because I was writing for elementary school kids, there were constraints.  Sex does not exist in elementary school rooms, so Harriet could not be a “natural daughter.”  Kids would have wondered what that meant, and any explanations would have produced letters from angry parents.  So I turned her into an orphan.  Emma and Harriet could not be waylaid by gypsies, either, because representing gypsies as criminals is racist, so they simply became a group of rough men who demanded the girl’s purses.

Nonetheless, I got fan mail from elementary school kids, addressed to “Ms. Jane Austen and Ms. Trina Robbins,” saying how much they liked the book.  I answered all the letters, telling the young readers that I was sorry to inform them that Jane Austen had died over two hundred years ago, but that if they liked the comic, perhaps someday they might read the book.

Then Tom Pomplun, editor of Graphic Classics asked me to adapt Northanger Abbey, which just so happens to be my OTHER favorite Austen novel (Northanger Abbey and Emma are her two funniest!), to be illustrated by Anne Timmons, with whom I’ve worked on so many other comics (including our own series, GoGirl!) that I can call her my partner in crime.  And in forty pages with no constraints!

Adapting any classic novel (I also adapted Bronte and Dickens for Scholastic) is like solving a delightful puzzle — what to keep, what to leave out. My first step is to buy the oldest, cheapest, most used softcover edition I can find.  I take a highlighter and a black felt-tip marker to it, highlighting the parts I want to keep, blacking out the parts that have to go. I can’t begin to describe how much it goes against the grain for me to mark up a book like that!

Working with Anne Timmons is a pleasure!  When I describe something, she understands perfectly and draws exactly what I had in mind.  Northanger Abbey is drawn in a cute and lighthearted style because that’s the way I see the book.  Catherine is young, naive, and big-eyed.  And she is a hopeless romantic, so some scenes, such as when Catherine runs in tears from Henry, who has just dressed her down because of her suspicions about his father, or when she lies in bed weeping because the General has ordered her to leave in the morning, might have come from some romance comic.

And Anne, bless her,  understands the fashions!  In the past, I have had dreadful experiences working with male artists (none of whom I chose) who never looked at the reams of fashion reference I always send with my scripts, obviously thinking that if you drew the female characters in long skirts, that was good enough.  And you know how important the right clothes are in a Jane Austen novel!  I’m sure we all agree that the worst Austen movie adaptation ever was that Greer Garson Pride and Prejudice, where for some bizarre reason, the producers decided to change the time period to the 1840s or 1850s.

Currently, Anne and I are working on an adaptation of Little Women, for the same publisher.  I couldn’t be happier!

Catherine Morland & Isabella Thorpe read Gothic novels in the
Gothic Classics edition of Northanger Abbey (2007)

Illustrating Jane

By Anne Timmons

I was just thrilled when Tom Pomplun, publisher of Graphic Classics, asked Trina and I to work on Northanger Abbey! Trina and I have illustrated other books for the Graphic Classics line including a story for their Jack London anthology.

I was familiar with Jane Austen’s work but I had never drawn the Regency period before. I did quite a bit of research by Google-ing a lot of the costume websites. There’s a vast array of websites that contain such concise and detailed information. For example, I needed to look up what a carriage would look like in the early 1800s. And certainly, the costumes and interiors needed to be close to that time period. Lots of Northanger Abbey was set in Bath so there’s a lot of the Georgian style of architecture.

After reading the original story, I received Trina’s adapted script. I laid out the entire story in small roughed out panels, also know as thumbnails. They gave me an idea of what the page would look like. Then I drew the story in pencil. I emailed the files to Trina and Tom to look over. After they gave me suggestions and advice, I inked over the pencils and scanned the finished art. Once the art was a digital file, I could email it to the publisher who did the lettering.

One of my favorite scenes to draw was the walk at Beechen Cliff. There is a lot of excitement leading up to this moment. The fact that Catherine had to wait for more favorable weather so it would be easy on her clothes and shoes. To finally be able to walk on a dry spring day, (and not be confined indoors), would have been a wonderful experience. In my research, I discovered that the fabrics used in the gowns were often made of muslin – a very thin material. It may have been in layers but not exactly warm enough for cold weather! The Regency period was influenced by the styles of the Roman Empire. Lots of high waists and hair pulled up off the face and neck. Trina’s descriptions offer what the character may look like and I had a great time with the embellishments!

I also had a lot of fun drawing the scene where Catherine scares herself as she tries to open the cabinet in her room.

Trina and I are currently working on a graphic novel adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s, Little Women which will be coming out in 2009. I will be, once again in a “Historical Costume Heaven!”

Further Reading

  • Read an interview of Trina Robbins at Jazma Online
  • Read a review of Gothic Classics at Publishers Weekly
  • Read a review of Gothic Classics at AustenBlog
  • Visit author Trina Robbins web site
  • Visit illustrator Anne Timmons web site
  • Purchase Gothic Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 14

Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: DAY 17 Giveaway

Gothic Classics: Graphic Classics Volume Fourteen (2007) 

Which includes Northanger Abbey

Adapted by Trina Robbins and illustrated by Anne Timmons

Leave a comment by October 30th to qualify for the free drawing on October 31st for one copy of Gothic Classics: Graphic Classics Volume Fourteen (2007)

Upcoming event posts
Day 18 – Oct 28          Group Read NA Chapters 25-28
Day 19 – Oct 29          Gothically Inspired
Day 20 – Oct 30          Group Read NA Chapters 29-31
Day 21 – Oct 31          Go Gothic Wrap-up

22 thoughts on “Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: Guest Bloggers Trina Robbins & Anne Timmons Chat about Gothic Classics: Day 17 Giveaway!

Add yours

  1. Brilliant! I’d love to see this. My husband assures me that if I can find a good graphic novel version of Sense & Sensibility by February when I begin to teach it to my sophomores, all of my teenage boys will be on board. (Of course, this is coming from the man who thinks that Jane Austen might be a bigger hit with the male half of the population if she wrote in “some light saber duels, or something” . . . !)


  2. Delightful to read your enthusiasm for the project! Adapting stories to other media can be such a challenge, and I think it can only be done well if you love the source material, but aren’t afraid to make necessary adjustments.

    Thank you for bringing this collection to my attention.

    (And to Merry, even with a graphic novel version of S&S, you might need a few duels to catch the fancy of boys that age. :-P)


  3. I ran across this book at work–I’m a cataloging librarian, so all the new books that come in have to go through my hands. The best part about it is that it contains an adaptation of The Mysteries of Udolpho, as well! Having that there definitely lets you get more out of Austen’s parody than the average modern reader might. And it’s a lot easier on the brain than Ann Radcliffe’s original, which I later went on to read (all 600+ pages of!).


  4. The illustrations are wonderful! I am not (currently) into graphic novels however I am excited about these. To be able to get the stories out there and get youngsters to (hopefully) go on and read and enjoy the originals is a wonderful thing.

    My son loves the graphic novels and I wish he could read some of these to have a better understanding of what his mother is into. :)


  5. I am very excited to see such fun graphic novels. I am looking forward to getting my hands on them. Another of my favorite novels is coming out in graphic form next year as well.


  6. Austen and Graphic novels, who could ask for more! I also love the idea of making them for elementary-age kids, although it’s crazy to think that even stories like Emma have to be censored! No gypsies, how crazy! Boo to our PC world. Either way, I’m glad you two ladies have made them and I hope you’ll have a chance in the future to create more Austen adaptions! Thanks!


  7. You’ve got my attention when it comes to graphic novels and Jane Austen! I didn’t even realize there were things like that out there until I discovered that there was one for Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I would love love love to win this – and I’ve had so much fun with your Northanger Abbey posts! Thanks for everything!


  8. Wow! What fun! A graphic Jane! I would love to see this as NA would be the best choice of Jane’s works to be a graphic novel!


  9. yay! comics! i work in comics too and i can assure you that this is a very entertaining adaptation (i have it on my coffee table right now!) and that trina and anne know their stuff. if you have never really been into comics, please do seek this out, i think you will get a big kick out of it and who knows? you might end up a big ol’ comic geek like me…ok, well that doesn’t sound so appealing but do look for this book!


  10. The illustrations are simply delightful! I can’t wait to read this. If the contest isn’t only open to u.s residents please, enter me into the drawing! (Sorry, I’ve been reading all the other posts but not entering them because I don’t live in the u.s but maybe it was a typo or not but ti didn’t say it here, so I wasn’t sure…)

    Now that I think about it, Northanger Abbey would be the best of Jane Austen’s novels to make in comics – it’s very fun and gothic (so visual, if you get what I’m saying) in a satirical kind of way…
    Anyhoo. Yay period costumes! :) :) :)


  11. This might be the best way for me to get my daughters to actually read Jane Austen… but then I would have to worry about them taking off with MY books. HMMM… may have to think on that a bit.


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