Corban Wilkin: Illustrator

Doing Adaptations

We all know how bad movie adaptations of literature can be, and I’m fairly sceptical about comics adaptations of prose. Regardless, I seem to have produced a few myself over the years, the first being a full-length translation of Brian Friel’s Translations, an excellent play set during the British colonisation of Ireland.

For some reason I thought it would be really simple and appropriate to turn a play into a comic. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Somehow I overlooked the fact that plays are chock-full of dialogue, and my comic became something that at times resembled an illustrated script!

I wasn’t satisfied with doing things the hard way just once, though, and went on next to adapt Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, a radio play and epic poem set in Llareggub, a fictional town in Wales. I thought it was a beautiful text, and there were so many great characters to draw. I really tried to get the vibe of a little Welsh town and these quirky characters Thomas populates it with.

More recently I created a complete but highly abbreviated version of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I compressed 100 pages of text down into 22 pages of comics and, with the story being something of a fable this allowed the strength of the plot to shine through in its most distilled form.

It was tough to work through but very enjoyable. I’ve learnt that making an adaptation comes with many of its own difficulties, not least of which is wishing to keep the piece true to the soul of the original. On the other hand I find that merely illustrating the story leaves a lot to be desired. Instead, what I try to is focus in on particular thematic aspects of a story and really bring those forward, cutting out what doesn’t fit with the ideas I see in the story and perhaps even synthesising new parts when necessary. I cut out quite a few characters from Under Milk Wood, for example, and combined two young female parts to make Lily Smalls (the girl with the bad skin and curly blonde hair) into the emotional focal-point of the comic.

Since I write my own work, too, it’s wonderful to learn from these great writers by analysing their work and retelling it in my own way. As it happens, I’m beginning work on another adaptation just now, of a short story by one of my favourite authors, H.E. Bates, but more on that later.