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JH front cover

Stevenson's tale made more accessible for the young reader.

CARL BOWEN'S DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, or How to Interest Your Reluctant Readers in an Iconic Tale

OverviewEdit

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a graphic novel (2009) retold by Carl Bowen and illustrated by Daniel Perez. Bowen’s Hyde presents the classic tale by Robert Louis Stevenson in which the ambitious Dr. Henry Jekyll, questing to separate his good, or “high,” mind from his evil, or “low,” mind, invents a potion that allows him to transform from himself to the evil Mr. Hyde and back again. Things go awry when Hyde commits the brutal murder of a close friend. Bowen and Perez condense Stevenson’s tale into a simpler narrative for youth with skillful aesthetics and accessible text that presents the story without gratuitously explicit representation. Especially for young readers, Hyde affords an understandable experience with the motif of the good-evil duality for which the name-pair is so eminently recognized.

Good For Children

Adaptation studies typically focus their attention on so-called “adult” novels and “sophisticated” literary works that target the mature reader. Dialogue centers primarily on how adaptive works move about and operate in the space of the marketplace as economic products for the grown-up. What we forget is that the young reader constitutes a consumer of text too. The juvenile’s encounter with text and image offers us an opportunity to explore the economics of phenomenological experience in the young and their contact with adaptations. One such consumer product is Hyde, a graphic novel rendition by Carl Bowen. For the young reader, Bowen’s renarration affords a simpler visual and textual experience with the good/evil binary that is more complex in the original novel.

Characterizing this work as simpler does not imply what we call “dumbing down.” Far from it. Rather, Bowen’s version presents the tale of a complex, sometimes abstruse philosophical and existential question that is intellectually accessible, understandable, and user-friendly for the young reader. The average consumer-reader is not likely or able to be—or want to be—a philosopher, metaphysician, or theologian. Not all read, are able to read, or even desire to read Kant or Descartes. Hyde allows the reader to access the problem of good and evil experientially at a comprehensible level.

Narrative AbridgementEdit

Bowen provides a modest narratival collapse in order not only to abridge the story for simplicity, but also to allow the reader to experience the nature of evil’s malice more closely than in the original. Stevenson’s text depicts the murder of Danvers Carew, a stranger; we never ascertain why Hyde slays him, and the reader cannot experience intimacy with the victim because s/he has no “investment” in Hyde’s target. Bowen elevates Lanyon from a minor player in the source narrative to colleague and victimhood; the reader gains greater experiential involvement with a character s/he comes to know and now understands why Hyde kills him, namely, revenge for disrespect. Bowen’s abridgement grants Lanyon greater narratological participation in the story and provides explanation for Hyde’s depraved action. Other condensation includes compression of text into simpler “sound bites” that repeat charged words or phrases. To impress the idea of morality and transgression, characters persistently ask, “What have I/you done?” Hyde and Jekyll employ the phrase “I must have you for dinner some night,” underscoring the potential of linguistic signification to assume threatening intent in an evil character. Hyde repeats Lanyon’s scoffing “Goodnight from both of me” in his own mocking way.

 Bowen manipulates the original narrative to elucidate certain neglected details in the original story. While Stevenson treats Jekyll’s early life cursorily, Bowen draws it out for us and shows us clearly in sequence how Jekyll arrived at his conclusions regarding mankind’s dual nature. Using integrated representation of environmental clues, academic paraphernalia, and simple text, Perez highlights Jekyll’s nature as an isolated, cerebral scholar. Hyde deftly employs space to underscore Jekyll’s character. As a child, a shaded Jekyll reads in a panelic corner, anticipating the shadowy character that he will later birth (38). Perez consistently places Jekyll in academic/scholarly space to enhance his intellectual bent. He is the only one with a backpack (38). When he meets Utterson, he is at a desk with books—one open to suggest that we the readers have interrupted his continual and industrious study—and a lamp that represents the academic “burning the midnight oil” (this metaphoric object reappears on page 40 also in a study-space). As Jekyll ponders the core existential question, we see him positioned in the academic space of his laboratory (40).

Mirror as Metaphor for Moments of "Recognition"

Using Freud, Jacques Lacan studied the “mirror-stage” moments of recognition in which a child experiences the reflection of his/her body image. Similarly, Bowen consistently employs the mirror as a trope for establishing four milestone “recognitive” moments in Jekyll’s life-journey. In the first, Jekyll faces his reflection and says, “I’ve got it!” (40), as he finally recognizes man’s dual nature. Intriguing in this panel is that the incorporation of the reflection serves as a metaphor for his discovery and the subsequent preoccupation with dividing his person into two bodies. Jekyll muses, “Every man has two minds in a single body,” and the reflected image becomes a virtual body in the panel facing his physical body, essentially creating two “bodies” in the panel that he seeks. Later, failing to separate into two bodies, as Hyde he sees his reflection and realizes his failure (46); metaphorically, his singular body reflected is two like-bodies underscoring a doubled fiasco. The first two moments blend in the third as his reflection now shows the inescapable hybrid Self he must accept and an acknowledgement of his transgressive potential (52). Aesthetically here, we see three bodies, Jekyll’s physical being and the blended bisomatic good-evil body reflected; a tripled body impresses on us how complicated his life has become. In a final recognition, Hyde regards his image in a puddle and realizes his loss of agency (55).

Masterful Aesthetics 

Aesthetic representation arrives at a simpler level to impress the good/evil dichotomy more vividly. In fact, Perez’s design features persistently stress in image, spatial positioning, and shading the dualism for which the Jekyll-Hyde pair has become a recognizable cultural emblem. Particularly masterful is the imagery accompanying his discovery (41). Jekyll’s face is shaded light on one side and dark on the other, exterior reflecting interior. Placement of voice bubbles enhances the duality; the “high mind” statement is on the light-shaded side, the “low mind” statement on the dark-shaded. Even their spatial placement is significant, for the “high mind” bubble is, indeed, higher on the page than the “low mind” bubble.” Perez doubles this treatment with two juxtaposed panels.

In fact, throughout Hyde, there is persistent conjoining of panels spatially that contrast sharply the dualism. We see Jekyll and Hyde panelically adjacent to each other so that we can experience them together (4-5, 44-45, 48, 50-51, 54, 59). As we enter the book, we experience the two already antithetical; Jekyll and Hyde are spatially opposed in the Introduction (4-5). Each panel affords us a different phenomenological experience of the dualism. We see the similar, mirrored agony of each several times (44-45, 48, 54). Perez represents to us the opposing personalities of good and evil, the latter as destructive and frenzied and the former as pensive and sober (59); this contrast transpires in the same space (the laboratory), and representationally tilted as though to communicate a world gone mad (59). In several cases, the use of the double-spread emphasizes an experience with physical layout that replicates the duality trope; facing pages literally split the character into two with image (4-5, 50-51). Not only are the two physical, but virtual too. We see the duality as a combined physical-doppelgänger persona-pair (49). Moreover, the blended image appears repeatedly (cover, 52, 63).

Perez “bookends” the product by presenting us the dualism on the cover as well as in the final panel, bringing it around full circle at the finish. The cover perceptually extends the trope outside the book into marketplace space for us to consume; liminally, the cover is part of the bound physical product, but “outside” the narrative as external material binding and its own space. As such, it ruptures the book’s boundaries and projects the dualism image into the world. Similarly, the last image the reader sees is the mingled mask behind Utterson (63). It is behind him, as though in the “back” of his mind, ever-present but lurking in the shadows as a darker, less overt, shading. This image threatens rupture experientially into the world outside because, as the last panel we see, it is the freshest image we take with us as we depart the novel. Perez has created for us a simple image that will persist with us to understand the narrative.

Hyde’s spatial cues, shading and coloring reinforce our experience with dualism. Perez tints the “good,” “virtuous” characters with more diverse hues, but Hyde appears with darker colors and more monochromatic. Implicit is a gloomy stimmung that reflects Hyde’s dark, morose, secretive nature and the experience with evil as a nature that prefers hiddenness, being literally “in the shadows.” Moreover, we see this shadowy nature represented as a nondescript form after he has evaded Utterson’s inquiries (bottom 17). This confrontation is spatially underscored. We see the oppositely shaded figures of Utterson and Hyde as the lawyer attempts to uncover Hyde’s identity (16). Evil’s resistive attitude toward discovery for its true nature we see in the bottom panel, which has zoomed in with decreased space from the top panel to bring us into a tensely, uncomfortably intimate nature with that evil. Hyde cries, “Liar! He did not!,” as we are with him close-up. Perez employs two devices of distance here. Not only does he diminish the panel’s interior space so that we can see more clearly the reality of evil’s persona, but the space “outside” between panel and reader has reduced. Two levels of areal abridgement position the reader closer to removing evil’s mask.

CONTRIBUTOR(S): Garrett C. Jeter (original)

Works CitedEdit

Stevenson, Robert L. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Reteller Carl Bowen. Illust. Daniel Perez. Mankato, MN: Stone Arch Books, 2009. Print.