For my money, Macbeth is the most accessible of Shakespeare’s tragedies, if not all his play – and consequently one of my favorites. So it’s a natural for Gareth Hinds to take on, after tackling some others from the Bard’s oeuvre including Romeo and Juliet (2013), as well as Homer’s The Odyssey (2010)
I saw an amazing production of Macbeth several years ago at the Open Air Theater in London’s Regent Park, which was billed as being intended for 6 year-olds and up though only, I suspect, if your 6 year-old was wildly precocious. While it’s impossible to compare a live theater production with a comic book, I was hoping for some of that drama and imagination, which I felt I didn’t quite get with this graphic adaptation, but that just may be me being a bit of a Shakespeare snob.
This is a very traditional and rather somber Macbeth set in the 12th century, where Hinds mostly lets the words do the work. The colors for the exteriors are a very Scottish blend of muted greys, blues and greens for the outside, and the interiors are orange and gold bleeding into shades of scarlet and crimson.
Hinds has abridged the text thoughtfully, but has left the words largely untouched, and presented as prose rather than poetry, with only the occasional (noted) clarification. The plot moves swiftly with the narrative flowing easily and comprehensibly. I didn’t care for putting anything to do with dark forces into black speech balloons, and found it a bit clunky.
It is beautifully drawn and very human – we don’t see Macbeth, or Lady Macbeth as monsters, rather as puppets to their fate. The three weird sisters – one ‘traditional’ witch, one African witch doctor and one Gaia type – bring some chill, and, even more so, the three masters they summon. While keeping to a fairly traditional layout, Hinds plays with panel sizes and shapes, most notably with a sinuous jug shape when Lady Macbeth is preparing the drugged wine.
One spread worked astonishingly well – that of Lady Macbeth’s ‘Out, Damned spot’ soliloquy, which is all visceral red, and uncontrollably scraping, chafing hands; and there is a striking image of Macbeth’s shadow as a dagger pointing him to his fate. Macbeth’s soliloquy after Lady Macbeth’s death, when he’s facing a final battle, “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow”, is beautifully illustrated with Macbeth’s world weariness and resignation perfectly captured.
As with previous books, I enjoyed the author’s backnotes on his adaptation of the text, and then some explanations about some of the individual images and panels.
I think Hinds is doing a splendid job bringing classic and rather challenging texts to a more accessible comic book context, and applaud him for his ambition and achievement.