John Reppion and Mark Penman adaption of the Middle Ages masterpiece, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a wonderfully realised new graphic novel. A tale for the ages, and for all ages being both a faithful and fun adaptation of a literary classic.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a Medieval narrative poem that has been transient many times by the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and more recently by the poet Simon Armitage. And, as a poem of some renown, it’s also made its way into comics too with the latest adaption being launched at this year’s Thought Bubble by writer John Reppion, and artist Mark Penman.
Not only is this a faithful and fun adapt of the source text, but the approach to the illustrations by Penman makes this a beautifully realised book and one that’s very different from your usual mainstream comic in both subject matter and style.
Reppion has clearly done his homework – the notes in the appendix to this book will attest to that – and rather than retell the story in a more traditional comic book vernacular, he maintains much of the alliterative tradition to be found in the original 14th century script. As such, the whole affair feels at times like an illustrated poem, written as it is in rhyming couples as well as the aforementioned alliteration that binds the text together. This is only broken when characters converse, such as when Gawain arrives almost magically at the castle of one Lord Bertilak and his lady wife and his true test really begins, unbeknownst to him.
Gawain’s tale is the quintessential Hero’s Quest and while he has most certainly gained a new found knowledge and magic talisman by the end of his adventure, he does not necessarily change for the better. Ultimately, this is a story may can relate to, either in the 14th century, or today too. It may be one of the off-shots of the Arthurian canon of stories, but it’s one that still resonates in its implied meaning to this day. And Reppion creates a wonderful and faithful poetic adaption that is a delight to read with art to match.
Penman’s approach is very stylised, with a strong eye for graphic design and layout that has some elements of Medieval artistry infused within his own cartoon-like style that makes this a book suitable for all ages. Yes, there is the infamous beheading at the start of the story that kicks the whole endeavour off, but this is done in such an unrealistic way that I would not be afraid to show it to pre-teens. It’s not worse than anything I saw in Tom & Jerry as a little nipper. After all, literature of this nature can often be hard to penetrate to all but the most scholastic of students, so an adaption of this kind is much welcome. And a good deal less lofty than the recent film adaption currently streaming on Amazon Prime. A great film, yes, but not one may will be able to penetrate easily.
Penman’s use of colours is also worth noting. He has decided to limit his palette immensely (just reds and greens are utilised), but it really works and even acts as a visual clue to the Green Knight’s true identity, while also creating a contrast between Gawain and the natural world around him that is as much a part of his ordeal as the tests he endures at Bertilak’s castle.
The carefully crafted combination (see, I can do alliteration to!) of weighed, but limited colours, well designed, creative pages and a story that sings because of its use of poetic devices and structures reads almost like an illustrated storybook in places. and a wonderful addition to any home, comic book fan or otherwise.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight will launch at Thought Bubble comic convention on November 14th-15th
And, for more on the original Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and it’s part in the development of the English language why not check out my Arthurian Annotations on the very subject here.