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Guest Review: ‘Manga Classics: Macbeth’

Today we are happy to present a guest review by manga expert Erica Friedman.

Written by William Shakespeare, adapted by Crystal S. Chan, illustrated by Julien Choy
Manga Classics, Hardcover $24.99, Paperback $17.99, E-book $17.99 
Rated Z+ For Teens (age 12+), Grade 11  

Written as a kind of fictionalization of history as told in Holinshed’s Chronicles, Shakespeare’s Macbeth is surely one of his most iconic creations. The play is a brilliant work of psychological horror wrapped in a cloak of historical fanfiction, so to speak. So many of the scenes and characters—and even specific phrases—of this tale have entered English vernacular, it’s almost inevitable that a mythology of why Macbeth is so difficult to produce or why mishap is so common with the ‘Scottish Play’ has built up around it as a kind of meta-mythology.

All of this combines to keep one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays on the reading list of schools worldwide…and also to create a wobbly barrier between those students assigned to read it and comprehension of the actual play. When I was in school, we were asked to read from the text of the play out loud, which served less to help us understand and enjoy it than to identify the poorest readers among us. And, with apologies to Miss Singer, the particular stage production we saw of this play was, honestly, embarrassing. It took me years to understand that the reason why Macbeth was so difficult to do as a play was that it was disarmingly simple. I mean, how difficult is it to get ghosts and murder and witches right? Harder than it seemed when I was in ninth grade, apparently.

Luckily for students of Macbeth now, the Manga Classics version steps beautifully into the gap left between attempting to read Shakespearean English out loud and ham-handed stage and movie productions of this masterwork. Crystal S. Chan’s adaptation contains all of Shakespeare’s scenes, intact, with no alteration. Unlike previous manga adaptations, a student who reads this manga version is reading the entire play, no Spark Notes needed. A teaching guide with sample lesson plans for this edition is available on the Manga Classics website

The art by Julien Choy does not shy from expressing the chaos and violence of the setting. After Duncan’s murder, one brilliant page is nothing but a hand clutching a knife, dripping with blood. It’s a stark black and white image, but the effect is the same as if it were four-color gore. Adaptor’s and artist’s notes by Chan and Choy add depth to the visual choices made. The end result is a Macbeth that Miss Singer would have been proud of…and one that was a chilling thrill to read. 

Erica Friedman holds an MLS from Rutgers University and writes about and reviews manga at Okazu.

Brigid Alverson About Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.

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