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Graphic Novel Review: A Christmas Carol, Adapted by Scott McCullar and Naresh Kumar

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Just in time for Christmas, Campfire Graphic Novels’ version of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol arrived in the mail. And since it may not be too late for those of you who need a last-minute gift for a young reader, a word or two about the book may still be in order.

The text, which keeps very faithful to the original, is by Scott McCullar. Illustrations are by Naresh Kumar. The whole runs some 68 pages and includes a one-page introduction to Dickens focusing on some of the facts of his life and a two-page “sidebar” on what they call the “Houses of Horror,” an extra sure to please the fans of Jacob Marley and all those other spirits who “wear the chains they forged in life.”

The story is pretty much Dickens straight, as often as not using his actual words. Other than to point out that there is of course a bit of strategic trimming here and there, though nothing significant seems to be missing, little more needs to be said about that aspect of the Campfire edition.

In a work like this it is the illustration that counts and the illustrations here are stylized in a manner consistent with many of the other volumes in the Campfire canon. Perhaps the best way to describe the style of the drawing is “edgy.”

Panels tend to be dark. Their atmosphere is gloomy. Characters look rough-hewn and haggard. Facial features and expressions are usually indicated by line and shading.

It is a style especially appropriate for most of Scrooge’s story. It is a style fit for the counting house and the graveyard. It goes well with Marley and Old Joe, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come and the possible death of Tiny Tim. It is perhaps less efficacious for the Cratchits’ Christmas celebrations, the Fezziwig party, and the conversion of Scrooge. It is a style then that goes well with the darker elements of the story.

Campfire’s target audience is the older child and its illustrations are intended for that audience. These are not visions of sugar plums. Ghosts are meant to be frightening. Poverty is ugly and depressing. People, even nice people, are not always pleasing to the eye.

In A Christmas Carol, as in his other novels, Dickens describes a world that is often not very pleasing. Think of Fagin and Sarah Gamp; think of Jo, the crossing sweep and the London fog in Bleak House.

If things turn out well as they often do, and indeed they do in A Christmas Carol, it does not alter the fact that the world can be an evil and frightening place, and Naresh Kumar’s illustrations reflect that world quite effectively. While Dickens, even in spite of his attention to the horrors of the world he lived in, has often been accused of sentimentality, I would doubt that anyone would accuse Kumar’s illustrations of anything even close.

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