Classics Illustrated: Great Expectations

Adapted by Rick Geary
Based on the novel by Charles Dickens
56 pages, color
Published by Papercutz

I remember as a child reading some of the original Classics Illustrated books at my library. It’s a simple but brilliant concept, adapting classics of literature into comic books, as a way to get younger readers exposed to great works in a slightly easier fashion. There have been a number of incarnations over the years, and the latest is Papercutz’s line, kicking off with Rick Geary’s Great Expectations. And in terms of a first book for the line, I can’t help but think that the choice is a little odd.

Phillip Pirrip, known to everyone as Pip, was a young boy living in the marsh country when he came upon an escaped convinct in hiding. Threatening Pip if he didn’t bring food, Pip does so—and so begins a life story that will take him first to be watched over by an eccentric old woman named Mrs. Havisham, a love for her ward Estella, and the chance to become a proper city gentleman.

I will be the first to admit that while I admire and respect some parts of Charles Dickens’s classic novel Great Expectations, I am by no means a fan of it on the whole. It’s an overwrought novel in places, and Pip’s infatuation with Estella over the years grows increasingly tiresome the more you read the book. For me, I was always the most impressed with the segments of the novel before Pip goes to London, when he’s playing in the decaying manor of Mrs. Havisham, and seeing how even as a child Estella was already learning how to toy with people’s emotions and ultimately break their hearts. In terms of taking the story and scripting it out as a comic book, it’s here that I think Geary does a good job. So much of this adaptation rang true to me, and I was pretty impressed. It’s not a terribly comfortable book to read, though, and even at Geary’s best Great Expectations is a pretty dry book; why it was one of the first to go into Papercutz’s new line is a little mind-boggling to me. Comic book format or otherwise, it’s hardly the sort of story that’s really going to grab a younger reader’s attention. I suppose if they’re forced to read it in school (as so many students are) then this would come in handy, but willingly picking up a story like this and reading it just seems a bit of a stretch to me.

While Geary’s work in his Treasury of Victorian Murder series is a perfect match, I must say that I was also a little disappointed in his art here. Geary primarily focuses on head-shots of the characters talking to each other throughout Great Expectations, and to be fair they are good illustrations of the characters. Pip’s brother-in-law Joe’s ruddy cheeks are exactly as I imagined them, and the way that Mrs. Havisham squints her eyes at times is just perfect in how they bring across her malice and dark nature. Unfortunately, Geary ignores a lot of great chances to illustrate the surroundings of Great Expectations, and the ultimate of that is Mrs. Havisham’s mansion of Satis House. Satis House is supposed to be a formerly decadent, now-rotting mansion with cobwebs and spoiled food everywhere, a house of eternal disrepair with its grand centerpiece of an age-old, untouched wedding cake. Instead, we barely get a glimpse of it here—a perfect chance for the visual medium of comics to be used, thrown away. The appearance of the cake is in shadows, and the best look we really get of the interior of Satis House is on the cover of the book itself. This is a problem that goes throughout the book; when Pip first goes to London, we get a single panel to show us how the city appears to him, and then it’s back to tight head-shots of characters, until you almost feel like it’s a low-budget television show that is trying to disguise that they couldn’t afford to film on location. It’s a real shame, and Geary is certainly capable of better than he produced here.

I’m delighted that Classics Illustrated is back, and hope that down the line it produces a lot of fantastic adaptations of great classics. (There’s also a companion line of Classics Illustrated Deluxe, which has a higher page count and kicks off with Michel Plessix’s beautiful adaptation of The Wind in the Willows. Additionally, Papercutz may be reprinting some of the First Comics/Berkeley Publishing books, and if so here’s hoping for P. Craig Russell’s The Gift of the Magi and Bill Sienkiewicz’s Moby Dick in particular.) Unfortunately, both the subject material and the choice for adapter seems a bit off in the initial selection; it’s by no means a bad end product, but I just can’t help but feel that a misstep was made. Hopefully down the line we’ll see some more exciting final products.

4 comments to Classics Illustrated: Great Expectations

  • […] Read About Comics, Rick Geary reviews the Classics Illustrated version of Charles Dickens’s Great […]

  • This was originally published in 1990 by First Comics. Papertcutz is reprinting it.

  • Jim Kosmicki

    This is a reprint of one of the initial First/Berkely Classics Illustrateds.

    I remember thinking this was one of the stronger early books (the best was definitely Peter Kuper’s The Jungle near the end). But then again, I love Great Expectations as a novel.

    Given that Geary is a long-time NBM creator, it makes sense to me for this to be an early book in the Papercutz series. There’s already a relationship with booksellers in terms of this author and Victorian subjects that might get the line in the door a little easier.

    My biggest objection to the series is that it’s obviously being published for a push to the library market. I’ve bought many books from NBM, and they are solid, quality publications. I’m sure that the hardcover version for $9.95 is a decent price for a hardcover volume, but I’d really prefer a paper cover version like their Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys (or Tales from the Crypt) for around $4. THEN, if they’d reprint certain titles (like The Jungle), I could justify having my students buy them for class.

  • Whoops! I hadn’t remembered this one at all from the First Comics line — good catch, guys!