In Conversation with Simon Grennan: Part One

By Benjamin G. Wilson

In preparation for Simon Grennan’s appearance at this year’s North Cornwall Book Festival, Benjamin G. Wilson caught up with him to talk about his graphic novel,
Dispossession, an adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s John Caldigate. In this first half of the interview, Ben and Simon talk about adaptation, translation, and the readers’ relationship to the past.

So, I suppose the first thing I should ask, for those readers who might not know your work, is could you give us a brief introduction to yourself?

I’m Simon Grennan. I am a graphic novelist and a little bit of a scholar of comics and graphic novels as well. But, for the North Cornwall Book Festival, I really have my graphic novelist hat on. I have a graphic novel that’s current, that I will be talking about in Cornwall, but I’ve been working in comics and graphic novels for ages and ages and ages. Since at least the mid-90s.

The first question would have to be about the relationship between your new novel and John Caldigate. Am I right in thinking it was a commissioned work? From the University of Leuven?

That’s right, a sort of unusual route for the creation of a new graphic novel. Graphic novelists usually act commercially so are given work to do, or almost as film auteurs so do everything themselves. But in this case there was a scholarly aspect.

The novel that’s currently out is called Dispossession. It’s an adaptation of one of the later novels of Anthony Trollope, John Caldigate, originally published 1879. Dispossession is the first graphic adaptation of a Trollope novel, which in some ways is quite surprising because there’s quite a lot of adaptation work going on. Adaptations are oakleys outlet popular. We’ve had adaptations of Dickens, and Austen and Eliot…. everyone really. But 2015 was the bicentenary of Trollope’s birth and I was commissioned to do two things.

The University of Leuven commissioned me to make the graphic adaptation. And that graphic adaptation, we decided together, had a function which was interesting and unusual. The function was to come up with a graphic style of drawing and storytelling that would replace Trollope’s literary voice. Trollope writes like Trollope, so you can tell instantly halfway down any page that it’s Trollope. He has stylistic of things no one else does, my task was to find visual equivalents for those.

That’s really interesting. For us, as readers, we might not be as used to thinking about a visual language in that way.

Yes, exactly. One of the things that’s incredibly interesting about trying to get to grips with text/image is that showing works very differently to telling. Which is one of the reasons we really focused on style. John Caldigate is one of the rare novels in Trollope where there are some things that are never told. Usually he tells you absolutely everything about what people are thinking and why. You never get cliffhangers or sensation, that’s not what the novel is about. But late on, he was feeling the tug of different types of writing, particularly as they were becoming popular. So he started to include ways in which the reader didn’t quite know what was going on.

That’s very interesting from a showing and telling point of view. Because it’s quite difficult to not show. If Cheap Football Jerseys you show something, you show it. You can’t fudge it.  So there are devices one can use for not showing, in visual terms, that are quite different but equivalent to literary devices.

That’s fascinating.

Yeah, it really was fascinating. It’s obscure, a world away from the incredibly popular and prize-winning graphic novels that we know, like Maus or Persepolis. It has this kind of spin. But that’s the meat and drink of it.

And the style I came up with is incredibly dense, much more densely drawn than graphic novels usually are. It makes a feature of its gloomy, glittering, very detailed, very historically accurate style of drawing. Thats a big deal in Dispossession.

Yes. In the research before this interview, I read another interview you’d done, and read something very interesting about not wanting to create a period dress facsimile of the contemporary world, but instead wanting to really create a sense of the place.

That’s absolutely right. And there are lots of ways of going about that.  And of course, it’s always a kind cheap nfl jerseys of fake. But if one does it intelligently, it can be very odd. And oddness is an acute tool we can use when thinking about the cheap football jerseys past. There are assumptions we make about living in the past that people living 50 years, or 100 years, or 150 years ago simply didn’t make. So if one can shift the reader, to a place where they see how peculiar the past was then one starts to get into doing their job right.

A criticism I might have, of adaptations in general, is that they don’t often self-consciously take up those kinds of opportunities. Or, if they do, they try to make the present feel better. So costume dramas like Doctor Thorne, the Trollope adaptation, or Victoria, that’s just finished, the contemporary sensation you get from them, as a viewer, is of the lushness and gorgeousness of the clothes. You don’t get a sense of how they might have smelt, or that certain types of thoughts couldn’t be thought.51hSnt+dGHL._SX379_BO1,204,203,200_

Whereas there are things we find incredibly shocking — like child labour, or drinking, or certain replica oakleys treatments of disease or social problems where we’d be outraged and horrified — which were quite normal and usual in polite society in 1870. So all of that is really great to get to grips with, and if one can use the drawing style to shove people sideways then it’s challenging to the reader, but at the same time it can be very rewarding and enriching. The whole visual regime of Dispossession is meant to have that effect.

Simon’s workshop, Creating Comics For Adults, will be held on Saturday 22nd October at the North Cornwall Book Festival.

Dispossession is published by Jonathan Cape.

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