Review: The Handmaids Tale (The Graphic Novel) by Margaret Atwood and Reneé Nault

‘There were places you didn’t want to walk, precautions you took that had to do with locks on windows and doors, drawing the curtains, leaving on lights. These things you did were like prayers; you did them and you hoped they would save you.’

******Trigger warnings: Rape, sexual assault, suicide (off page), self harm, death of a parent, torture, death, child marriage and homophobia*******

I think just about everyone and their dog who has a passing knowledge of dysopia in speculative fiction or just fiction in general is aware of the prowess of Margaret Atwood. I first read The Handmaids Tale back in 2016 after finishing college and working my first full time job. Safe to say a lot of the things that start the creation of this world, were things I found believable at that point of my life. However I did resist reading the graphic novel adaptation for a while now (this isn’t exactly a book I wanted to reread) and the time came for me to remedy that.

Everything Handmaids wear is red: the colour of blood, which defines us.

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, where women are prohibited from holding jobs, reading, and forming friendships. She serves in the household of the Commander and his wife, and under the new social order she has only one purpose: once a month, she must lie on her back and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if they are fertile. But Offred remembers the years before Gilead, when she was an independent woman who had a job, a family, and a name of her own. Now, her memories and her will to survive are acts of rebellion.

Provocative, startling, prophetic, The Handmaid’s Tale has long been a global phenomenon. With this stunning graphic novel adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s modern classic, beautifully realized by artist Renee Nault, the terrifying reality of Gilead has been brought to vivid life like never before.

Like I said, I’m sure more than enough of you are aware of this story, it’s significance, the award winning sequel or the TV show that began airing on Hulu in 2017. This isn’t new ground. What I am here to talk about is how the choice to adapt this for a graphic medium is the best idea for this story and really reinforces the bleak world of Gilead.

That’s where I honestly want to start is Gilead, we get to literally see it on the page. I haven’t seen the series personally so I’m not entirely sure how it’s portrayed there but something that really struck me is how I never actually pictured the setting fully. I always was able to picture Offred’s room, the house, even the illegal brothel Jezebels but the mundane life of living in this brutal place isn’t something I really thought about. There are still streets, shops and queues to buy food. There are no signs, just pictures for what each one sells. Something that is subtle and I certainly forgot from the original book.

There is no overstating the power Reneé Nault’s art brings to this. Nault is a fantastic artist with a style that is hard not to marvel at and has previously worked on her own comic, Witchling, and has spoken on the more mesmerising quality she likes to add to her work. Something I really enjoyed about how Nault formatted this to tell Offred’s story. She uses the traditional paneling you would expect in any graphic novel but she manages to play with it in a creative way, much like Colleen Doran, where the changes in the structure often push and pull on the feelings the reader is having. Example being, where Offred meets another Handmaid and the sharp arching of the page referencing the sharp awareness that the other woman could be a friend or foe.

Both the story and the characters, both the oppressed and the oppressors, are the same as Atwood’s novel but it’s amazing how much more the horror of this world settles on you when you’re seeing it visually. From the costumes, right down to the vile ‘Ceremony’ depicted against a flat square of black so that we can look no further but except at what is happening and just the endless flashbacks painted in a softer, more washed out colours as Offred recalls them, really made this story all the more bleaker. When I first read the novel, I genuinely had some optimism for Offred in the end and prior to reading The Testaments even. Here, it’s hard to navigate beyond the bleak world of Gilead.

Overall this served as a good refresher for me of the overall story but was still an uncomfortable read. The art is absolutely stunning and the artist was definitely the right choice to tackle this frightening story. It does obviously display the acts of state sanctioned rape on the handmaids so I have put the necessary trigger warnings. Thanks for reading the post people, happy reading!

★★★★/5

Review: Teen Titans: Raven by Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo

Now it has been a WHILE since I covered comics on the blog. It has also been a while since I read a Teen Titans story. This book also was one of the graphic novels I couldn’t wait for last year since I have been following Gabriel Picolo and his amazing art for years. So naturally, I only read it last week.

When a tragic accident takes the life of 17-year-old Raven Roth’s foster mom–and Raven’s memory–she moves to New Orleans to recover and finish her senior year of high school. Starting over isn’t easy. Raven remembers everyday stuff like how to solve math equations and make pasta, but she can’t remember her favorite song or who she was before the accident. And when impossible things start happening, Raven begins to think it might even be better not to know who she was before. But as she grows closer to her new friends, her foster sister, Max, and Tommy Torres, a guy who accepts her for who she is now, Raven has to decide if she’s ready to face what’s buried in the past…and the darkness building inside her.

Re-imagining characters in a new way is a hard thing to pull off, especially in comics. People always come to a comic with the idea in their heads of how they experienced a character for the first time and how the new version compares. Like many, my first time meeting Raven was the Teen Titans cartoon on Cartoon Network and the subsequent DC animated works after. This vision of Raven measures up to everything and more that i was hoping for.

For a start, Garcia is the perfect choice for writing this. Choosing a YA writer to write a teenage character is generally always a good choice but here I think it works best of all with Raven being a character who is accessible now to younger readers. I think this is also a great jumping on point for adults too actually, especially if you never read a Teen Titans book.

Something that I find can be done very poorly in classic comics being brought into the current day is new characters that have never existed before. Both Garcia and Picolo together have created Max, Raven’s foster sister and new friend. I wish characters like Max had existed when I started reading comics, she is such a realistic teenager but she is also one of the few teens I have seen in comics who has a good relationship with her mother. Also as is revealed later on, Max has enough of her own shit going on and she handles it like a champ. Note, if you are a long time DC fan, you will spot a well known character connected with the titans here too!

Now to my favourite part. The art. Noone draws the Teen Titans like Gabriel Picolo. I will die on that hill. There are other amazing artists like Jen Bartel who draw the Teen Titans regularly but their appearance does tend to be based on Picolo’s vision. He draws them like teens would be dressed, in the style of Snapchats and just doing normal teen things. This was al before Raven was announced and I imagine that I wasn’t the only one that cheered.

There is a very particular palette as well in the story that keeps with Raven and her aesthetic and I honestly hope this becomes more common across other comics and graphic novels. There are generally two palettes I see in DC, and named them in my head. We have ‘the muddy’ for the edgier stories that are more along the kine of the Black Label and then ‘the bold’ for all the others. Some have both (looking at you Suicide Squad). This was a blessing to see.

I can’t not talk about the clothes. Holy shit if anyone can do fashion besides Kevin Wada, it is Gabriel Picolo. The way Raven dresses makes me long for that wardrobe in my own life. I think some of my favourites are her raven hoodie/jacket and her ‘Black is my happy colour’ shirt. Those shoes too, talk about goals.

There is thankfully a sequel being published this year (hopefully, looking at you Rona) that follows Beast Boy and I think I am safe to assume Raven will make another appearance there. But more importantly, I can’t wait to see what else this team has to offer.

I think I made the best decision to read this now of all times and get me back to reading. Again this is definitely a good place to start if you are reading either graphic novels and comics or to the Teen Titans. Stay safe everyone and happy reading to you all!

★★★★★/5