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posted June 18, 2008
Papercutz, hardcover, 56 pages, March 2008, $9.95
This is a reprint of Rick Geary's contribution to the aborted First Comics version of the Classics Illustrated series, repackaged into a smart-looking, full-color hardcover at an appealing price point by NBM's young-people line. Charles Dickens' story of the hollowness of social advancement contains some of his more direct theme work and a panoply of depressing scenes as he digs into nearly every aspect of Victorian society and their soul-crushing limitations as a way of playing out his story. Gary's potent cartooning brought back memories of the horrors experienced when reading this novel as a teen: its harsh view of the lengths people will go to in constructing a miserable life for themselves, and the almost eager desperation of its protagonist in building something like that for himself.
Geary's cartooning captures the overripe qualities that precedes the decadent portions of the story more than he's able to convey the sharp contrasts and finely tuned feelings of self-reproach that force its lead down one of the more depressing roads to enlightenment regularly taught to high school students. While the bugs that scatter from Miss Havisham's have a haunting matter-of-fact quality, and the vibrancy of the colors of Pip and Estella's clothing suggests their vitality and even their sexuality in a way the narrative does not, there's a point at which the book seems like an endless array of talk-heavy scenes driven by an arbitrary consciousness. It stops unfolding and starts being told fairly early on. In that way, Great Expectations
works more effectively as adaptation than a stand-alone story. It should enhance through visual means one's reading of the original text, although I have no idea why anyone would particularly seek out to have that experience bolstered in that way. Still, one of the great advantages of the boom in comics publication is that little, mostly obscure works like this are given fresh life, and it's always fun to dip into Geary's world for a few moments, even the Dickensian neighborhoods.