By Jim Beard
Picture of Dorian
Gray cover by
Long before "The Coming of Galactus" or "The Death of Gwen Stacy," there was another literary classic published in a monthly magazine that both shocked and thrilled an entire generation of readers: "The Picture of Dorian Gray."
First printed in 1890, "The Picture of Dorian Gray" was the only published novel written by the infamous Oscar Wilde. In its day, it broke waves of controversy across the globe and was panned by critics as both decadent and immoral. Today, the work is considered a literary milestone and has taken its place in history as a novel that defined the artistic and creative movements of its day. It's also seen as one of the very last works of classic gothic horror fiction.
And now, beginning this November, Marvel Comics is bringing "The Picture of Dorian Gray" to you in a fashion that only Mighty Marvel can.
Oscar Wilde's challenging novel will be the newest entry in the Marvel Illustrated line of literature-to-comics events. The writer who will adapt this monumental tome is none other than Roy Thomas, legendary scribe, architect of vast tracts of the Marvel Universe and he who has adapted several other literary works for the line.
Sketch of Basil by
Nicole Boose, Marvel Illustrated editor, defines the line's mission statement as: "bringing the Mighty Marvel Manner of storytelling to bear on literary classics." Furthermore, she notes that "Marvel gets an opportunity to widen our range a bit in terms of the kinds of stories we get to tell, and the readers have an option as to the kinds of stories they can get from us. Everybody wins!"
The story of Dorian Gray is both classic and diabolic. Enamored with both himself and his new portrait, he wishes aloud that the work of art be subject to the ravages of time in his place. In a very Faustian exchange, Dorian's wish is granted and the young man launches into a life of hedonism and debauchery. Matters worsen as not only does the painting age instead of Dorian, but it also begins to reflect every cruel act he commits, every sin he sketches onto his soul. And it is not only his own life that he plummets into a downward spiral, but those of the people around him.
Writer Roy Thomas is no stranger to the Marvel Illustrated line, having previously adapted such luminary novels as "Last of the Mohicans" and "The Man in the Iron Mask." What fans may not know about Thomas is his own unique connection with these great works: He was once a teacher of English literature.
"He brings a very respectful, knowledgeable approach to the material," says Boose. "Roy's passionate about adhering to the source—he makes careful effort to protect the original writer's intention at all time. That, combined with his background working in comics, makes him a great writer to adapt literary material to the comic format."
Sketch of Dorian by
Thomas is a veteran of Marvel Comics, having first gone to work for the House of Ideas in the '60s. He soon became a protégé of Stan Lee and was among the first writers to tackle the famous Marvel pantheon after Stan. Thomas contributed many characters to the ranks of Marveldom, including the android Vision, Man-Thing, Iron Fist and Ghost Rider.
"I don't recall if I'd ever read 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' before, but as an admirer of Oscar Wilde's wit (isn't everyone), I was eager to adapt it," says Thomas of the origins of the project. "Actually, I've long felt a connection with the novel and its plot, because from my early '20s on, I'm always being told I look younger than whatever age I actually
happen to be, and of course, like many other hand-me-down witster, I often remark
that my secret is that I have this portrait in my attic that looks 110. Little did I ever dream I'd be adapting the original source of that image into comics format!"
Eternally-young Thomas is also cognizant of the challenges in transforming such a cerebral work into the graphic novel format, and notes its unique standing in the world of comics-adapted literature. "The challenge will be to keep Dorian looking the same all the way through, yet contrasted increasingly with that hidden portrait. Well, that's ONE challenge. Another will be to get the maximum amount of visual excitement out of a story that, as some say, is 'a relatively cerebral book.' To say the least! But hey, anybody can make 'The Three Musketeers' look exciting and interesting. Only Marvel would be bold enough to do the same with 'The Pciture of Dorian Gray!'
"This is the first novel in the Marvel Illustrated series that has, to the best of my knowledge, never been adapted before in comics format...not by Marvel Classics in the 1970s, or Classic Comics/Classics Illustrated in the '40s through the '60s, or in the comic
CI knockoffs Superior Stories, Ideal, etc. A real first...and I'm happy to be a part of it."
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As was noted previously, this isn't the first novel Thomas has visualized for Marvel Illustrated, and he already has a working system in place to handle the fascinating chore. "I read the novel...I read short versions if available (online, or Cliff'sNotes/Sparknotes)...anything to get me in the mood. But, in the long run, it's the actual source material that is important. As I've said before, one of my chief aims—and Ralph [Macchio, Executive Editor] and Nicole have encouraged me in this—is to write the stories so that as much as possible of the dialogue and captions is in the language of the original writer.
"Our aim is to give the reader the closest possible adaptation of the actual book itself, keeping as much of the flavor of the original as humanly possible. I'll spend as long as is necessary poring over a page, several pages, a chapter, to find the right phrase by the original author that fits the drawing and the situation. After you've been adapting an author's prose for a while, you perhaps get inside his head just enough to be able to do pull it off."
The Picture of Dorian Gray also boasts a unique artistic take, as the visuals will be provided by Sebastian Fiumara he of "Hypothetical Lizard" fame. "I think this is something we all came to instinctively," comments Boose on the road to Fiumara's inclusion on the project. "[Editor] Chris Allo showed us Sebastian's samples and they were just lovely to look at. Beautiful and a little bit dark and eerie at the same time. Just like Dorian."
For the artist's part, he shares something about the novel with writer Thomas. "I'd never read it before!" chuckles Fiumara. "My girlfriend told me to several times, 'cause she thought I would love it, but I never gave the book a chance, until Chris Allo contacted me for the job and I thought: 'I'm gonna have to read it now!' I have read it a couple of times now…my girlfriend was right!"
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Fiumara is definitely looking forward to daunting prospects of the adaptation. "This book has a LOT of talking, so I'm trying to concentrate mainly on the storytelling, I'm focusing on it. The story is amazing and it transmits many thoughts and deep feelings…I'll try to translate all this into the pages."
All editors concerned have faith in the artist's abilities and are especially looking forward to seeing his collaboration with Thomas unfold. Fiumara also recognizes the impending melding of the minds. "I prefer not to think about it because I won't be able to work again! It's very intimidating!! Seriously, it is a real honor to work with him. The script is a pleasure and he's been very kind to me so far, what more can I ask for?!"
But in the end, what exactly is this novel that elicits such responses from people, and has existed untouched by comic scribes and artists all these years? Is it Horror? Suspense? Tragedy? Morality play? "Good question...but I don't classify it at all, really," notes Thomas. "If I did, I'd have to say it's 'all of the above.' I think Oscar Wilde balanced the
Fantasy elements of Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde' with the style of his own comedies of manners and several other elements, and came up with a unique creation. It's still being widely read well over a hundred years after it was written. And of course, there was a film version or two.
"I was actually reading the novel in a line at the bank some weeks ago, and the lady behind me noticed what I was reading and chimed in, 'Do you like that book? I remember the movie'...and we had a conversation about Dorian Gray. Who'da thunk it?
"It's a most unusual adaptation," he notes, of his upcoming work. "in tune with those of today's graphic novels which are less action-oriented than the super-hero, Western,
crime and straight horror fare that are comics' more usual fare."
Get ready to cast your gaze upon MARVEL ILLUSTRATED: THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY starting this November.