Carol Inskeep: 'Kindred' turned into a graphic novel
By CAROL INSKEEP
You'll find Octavia Butler's groundbreaking novel "Kindred" (released in 1979) on many must-read lists of science fiction/fantasy novels. Butler was praised both for her masterful writing and for her innovative characters and themes, and Kindred succeeds on both counts.
The book tells the story of Dana, a young black woman who is an aspiring writer and is married to a white man. Inexplicably, Dana finds herself repeatedly transported back in time to the antebellum South, where she experiences first-hand the brutal realities of slavery and life on a Maryland plantation. The irony of Butler's "dark fantasy" is that its dystopian world is a realistic journey into history rather than a visit to an alien world.
Now, two artists/authors have reimagined the story as a graphic novel, a full-color illustrated version of the original. The critically-acclaimed "Kindred: A Graphic Novel by Damian Duffy and John Jennings" took years to complete, but upon release, it began receiving rave reviews and quickly jumped to the top of the graphic novel bestseller list. The award-winning creators of the graphic novel have a local connection — they met at the University of Illinois in 2005 and have been friends and collaborators ever since.
I read the original novel many years ago and found reading the graphic novel to be a very different experience. The print version leaves it to the reader to imagine every scene, to visualize every character. Duffy faced the challenge of crafting the novel into a more condensed form, driven by dialogue. The artwork adds another dimension. Jennings' historical research is evident in his drawings of the scenery, the cabin and plantation house, and even the furniture and clothing.
There is also a really creative use of color in the book. Especially vivid and vibrant color is used for the scenes from the 1800s, so that, like Dana, the reader starts to feel like these are the more powerful and intense experiences. When Dana's sense of reality shifts and she begins to time travel, the panels of the comic may begin to melt and disintegrate. Sometimes after I read a two-page spread, I liked to pause and just take in what Duffy and Jennings were doing with color, dimensions and organization.
Like the original, the graphic novel is a tough read. Artist Jennings commented in an interview that the intensity of "inhumanity to black people is so visceral and salient in the story. It's a heavy and painful narrative because of its truth." He said, "I found myself sometimes weeping onto the pages." But "Kindred" also is about empathy — Dana is an incredibly resilient woman who keeps her soul and her capacity for empathy intact.
"Kindred: A Graphic Novel" reimagines Butler's original for a new generation at a time when there is resurgence of interest in stories that explore race, gender and the impact of history. Films like "12 Years a Slave" and Ava Duvernay's documentary "13th" have brought these stories to the screen, and novels like "The Sellout" and "Underground Railroad" imagine them on the page. As Butler said, "I just knew there were stories I wanted to tell."
Carol Inskeep is an Adult Services Librarian at The Urbana Free Library. She currently loves reading biographies and books about American History.