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!
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)
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!”
- 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