Interview with Gareth Hinds

I encountered Gareth Hinds several years back when I first started doing graphic novel reviews.  A graphic rendition of King Lear by Hinds came across my desk and I rather enjoyed it.  Shortly thereafter, I learned that Hinds was a local artist in the greater Boston area.  At the time, I was creating a roundtable discussion of several people involved in the comics industry for an even at North Shore Community College and his name instantly popped into mind.  Since then, Hinds has gone on to publish Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice as well as most recently, a wonderful graphic adaptation of The Odyssey.  He has been kind enough to be interviewed for this blog. 

EATON:  So you’ve done Beowulf, King Lear, Merchant of Venice and now The Odyssey.  What pulls you to do the classics?  What do you feel you can add to them by putting them in comic form?
Gareth Hinds at work

HINDS:  This question could cover a lot of ground, but let's just say that I want to work with the best writers around, and in my opinion those are Shakespeare, Homer, and the anonymous composer of Beowulf. The major benefit of turning them into graphic novels is that they become more exciting to young people (as well as anyone who feels the originals are too long, dense, or difficult).

EATON:  What are the major challenges in adapting classic literature into comics?

HINDS:  They tend to be long. They don't lend themselves very well to being broken into short chunks of dialog (which is usually better than long chunks in terms of story flow in the comics medium.) They are very sophisticated, and if you dumb them down to fit in the world of standard superhero fare,... well, then they're dumb. This is the mistake I see made most often.

EATON:  Conceptually, what challenges did you find with The Odyssey?  Technically, what challenges did you find with The Odyssey? What editorial decisions needed to be made with adapting The Odyssey?

HINDS:  I'm going to answer these three all together, because the distinctions between them are a bit blurry.

Because the Odyssey is so long, I had to think about how I was going to shorten it. There were certain sections that lent themselves well to compression, such as the Land of the Dead, and the period after Odysseus' return when he's scoping out the situation and telling people a lot of elaborate lies about who he is and where he's from. Also there was the question of which translation to use, and how to edit down the dialog. After looking at that for a while, I decided that I needed to re-write everything in order to get it short enough, and that let me more or less dodge the translation issue.

I feel that each book I do demands its own visual style, so the next challenge was figuring out a style that captured the feel of this time and place, the ancient Mediterranean, that made it feel real -- that I could do quickly, since it's such a long book. I tried quite a few things, and ultimately the simple pencil and watercolor direction was the one which worked best. There were also technical details to work out with my designer at Candlewick, such as the width of the margins and gutters, the type face, how to make the sound effects integrated but editable,and so on.
Book cover to Gareth Hind's The Odyssey

Once I was into the actual execution of the book, there were challenges with specific scenes. I try to be very faithful to the original source material, but when you are going from one medium to another, you really are translating, and sometimes details have to change in order to achieve the same overall effect. Especially with the more emotionally-charged moments, it can be difficult to convey the thoughts and feelings of the characters without using thought bubbles or third-person narration (devices which I don't particularly like, especially  when I'm trying to maintain a classical feeling). Some scenes that especially gave me trouble: the recognition scenes with Argos and Eurycleia, the Land of the Dead, Odysseus and Penelope's night together after their reunion, and the very end (which is quite abrupt in the original).

EATON:  One thing I’ve grown to enjoy about your work is the coloring and color schemes used throughout different sections of the book.  Can you speak to the coloring choices?

HINDS:  The jumping-off point is whatever I think is realistic for the scene -- firelight, sunrise, bright noonday sun, and so on. Then I will adjust it based on the mood I'm looking for. So the Cyclops' firelit cave becomes an angry bright orange, while Odysseus' firelit palace at night, when he's in disguise talking to Penelope, is more subdued and mysterious. Also the watercolor has its own ideas sometimes!

In this book especially, I do a lot of day-night transitions to show how time is passing, especially in the traveling sequences.

EATON:  Do you do any kind of research when adapting a classic?  Do you read academic material or anything along those lines for further insight?

HINDS:  I don't read much critical material about the work I'm adapting, because that stuff is usually pretty dense and boring, and I prefer to stick to my own impressions of the work. I do quite a lot of visual and contextual research on the period, especially things like architecture, clothing, weapons, furniture, etc. Basically I want to get a solid feeling for how everything would look realistically. Then I may depart from that historically accurate vision a little (or a lot) -- perhaps by simplifying it, stylizing it, making it more grandiose or more fantastic, or perhaps even changing the setting completely -- but doing so with a confidence that I know what I'm departing from, and I'm making those choices consciously and for a reason.

EATON:  What is your favorite part of the Odyssey?  (Both in terms of the story and in terms of the work that you did)

HINDS:  In the original story my favorite part is when Odysseus' dog Argos recognizes him. Ultimately I'm very happy with the way I was able to (I think) preserve the power of that scene, although it was also the scene I wrestled with the most. The scenes that really just came together easily and beautifully were the ones where Odysseus is out on the sea alone, sailing, swimming, being shipwrecked, etc.

EATON:  What is your next project?

HINDS:  I've just finished up a book for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, called Gifts from the Gods, that is a kind of hybrid between a picture book and a graphic novel. The text is by Lise Lunge-Larsen, and it's about Greek and Roman mythology, so in subject it's very much in keeping with The Odyssey, but it's also very novel for me in terms of working with a new format, publisher, editor,... and a living writer!

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For more information, please check out Gareth Hind's website and his blog.

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  1. I think the fact that he was able to turn these novels into comic books is just fascinating. I agree that reading the books when I was younger in high school was a drag listening to all my teachers read on and on and me falling asleep in class and missing most of the material. But now that I see Gareth Hines has taken some of these stories into awesome comics makes me more interested in these stories. I’ve always liked comics and I was always a fan of them like the original Teen Titans, Spiderman and Superman and often times I had wondered while I was reading these stories Beowulf, The Odyssey and King Lear how would they look in either a movie or a comic. They already made a movie for Beowulf which was bad but never a comic and now that there is one out there maybe kids will be more active in reading the stories. In most kids opinion these stories are boring and uninteresting but if u make them into comics and show realistic pictures maybe they’ll be more interested. Kids now a days like the excitement and energy and reading boring books doesn’t catch their attention but with comics they’ll be more into them which is why I think instead of giving out these books to read they should all be made into comics to be given to the students.


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