I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia E. Butler, Damian Duffy, John Jennings
Published by Abrams on January 10th 2017
Genres: Comics & Graphic Novels, General, Fiction, African American, Historical, Science Fiction
Format: Electronic ARC
Buy on Amazon
Kindred is the tale of a black woman who is repeatedly transported from her 1970s apartment to antebellum Maryland. The main reason I requested the adaptation was so that I would finally force myself to read the full-length novel. I’m so glad I did because it ended up being one of my favorites last year! Kindred makes such a great candidate for a graphic novel because there’s much dialogue and historical fiction seems to work especially well in the format. John Jennings and Damian Duffy they did a fantastic job of adapting Octavia Butler’s story. The review below is for the graphic novel adaptation only. My review for the full-length novel is available at this link.
The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. – Steven Biko
What would you do if you were suddenly pulled into the past and had to find a way to survive?
The introduction is written by speculative fiction writer Nnedi Okorafor. She writes about how Octavia Butler inspired her when she needed it the most. Learning about Butler’s kindness and how she made time to mentor a gifted new writer gave me a whole new level of admiration for her!
The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural is one of the most memorable books from my childhood book collection. The scratchboard illustrations by Brian Pinkney shaped how I visualize the antebellum South (one of the illustrations). While the artwork of Kindred is unique to artist John Jennings, the earthiness of the illustrations made me immediately recall that book. Jennings’s style somehow made me feel settled in both the 1970s and 1800s. There’s a frenetic energy to the illustrations that convey the extreme stress that Dana’s body is being subjected to. His choice of presenting the 1970s in sepia tones and the 1800s in full-color was brilliant and reminded of how differently Dana processed the two different worlds:
Rufus’s time was a sharper, stronger reality. The work was harder, the smells and tastes were stronger, the danger was greater, the pain was worse … Rufus’s time demanded things of me that had never been demanded before, and it could easily kill me if I did not meet its demands. That was a stark, powerful reality that the gentle conveniences and luxuries of this house, of now, could not touch.
I appreciated the art even more after viewing Jenning’s Tumblr and seeing how the art for Kindred differs from his usual style. Here is a link to one of the Kindred spreads, but you can see some more of his process for his various projects if you scroll through his blog.
An adapted version won’t include everything. The omissions are going to be harder for me to pinpoint because I read the two books so close together. However, I missed the part where one of the plantation slaves explains the reasoning behind her children’s names. That part was probably easy to cut because many could probably make that connection on their own!
While there are necessary omissions, there are also parts where the illustrations add so much emotional power to the text. Being able to see Dana’s facial expressions tempered my only complaint of the full-length novel—that Dana seemed so detached, unusually accepting of her situation. At one point in the original novel, Dana has to put her copy of Gone With the Wind aside because she’s unable to stomach its representation of slavery after what she has experienced. I mentally pictured her throwing it across the room. The illustration shows her tossing it in the garbage can, which I thought was an appropriate visual.
Some of the most powerful spreads were the ones with the fewest words. One of the pages that impacted me most was after Dana convinces one of the slaves to submit to her owner’s desires. “She didn’t kill him . . . but she seemed to die little. Rufus mailed another letter for me. Payment . . . . for services rendered.” (pg. 158, The Fight) Minimal words, but the illustrations pack such a punch. Another page that I found memorable is at the end of The Fall (pg. 99), when Dana is reaching for Kevin as the whip comes down and she disappears.
The graphic novel is such an awesome format for Octavia Butler’s classic book and would make a great gift for her fans. It would also be a great way to introduce yourself to the story if you’re not ready to commit to the whole novel or you don’t think you’ll be able to make time for it anytime soon. I do recommend reading the novel first because it’s a very fast-paced and action-packed experience!
If you are interested in John Jennings’s artwork, his Hoodoo Noir graphic novella Blue Hand Mojo: Hard Times Road (pub. date 3/1/17) is currently available in the ‘Read Now’ section Netgalley.