News room: A new 'Hero' in Town for Graphic Novels

A new 'Hero' in Town for Graphic Novels by Heidi Polk

Meet ‘Self Made Hero’, a London-based publishing firm that specializes in graphic novel adaptations of classic literary works.

Increasing levels of critical respect and commercial success mean that the once culturally-underground realm of graphic novels and comics is currently experiencing an unprecedented worldwide boom in production. While heavyweight corporations such as Marvel and DC Comics produce a large amount of the graphic novels in western markets, plenty of room remains for exciting innovations and fresh visions that will help shape the way graphic novels are viewed by the reading public and the new roles they might play within popular culture.

Winner of the UK Young Publisher of the Year award in 2008, Self Made Hero is a London-based publishing firm specializing in graphic novels. The company first launched in 2007 with Manga Shakespeare and Eye Classics; it expanded again this year with offerings from the Sherlock Holmes canon. In addition, October 2009 will witness the commencement of its latest division, Graphic Biography (the pilot edition is rumored to feature the Man in Black, Johnny Cash ).

Rather than focusing exclusively on the creation of original universes and characters, the international teams of writers and artists behind the scenes of Self Made Hero have chosen to give flesh and blood to the black and white print of traditional literature. They are responsible for bringing life to some of the most memorable and significant characters in textual history, creating powerful images that will resonate with audiences everywhere.

To sleep, perchance to dream

Manga Shakespeare presents a bold and innovative way to explore the works of that most famous bard: the series consists of abridged adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, detailed with eye-catching illustrations created by talented mangaka . Not just unique for its marriage of Western text and Eastern artwork, the sequence also presents original and intriguing interpretations of each play, successfully exploring new aspects of these classic works. While Romeo and Juliet is set in modern-day Japan, its title characters from rival Yakuza families, the story of Hamlet occurs in a futuristic cyberworld. Othello goes beyond the racial struggle between black and white – winged characters and a fantastic Venetian setting allow this adaptation to examine the dividing line between human and animal, and monstrosity. In another fascinating twist, King Lear is envisioned as an aging Iroquois chief, whose struggles to hold onto his power (and subsequent destruction by white settlers) reflect issues concerning American colonialism.

Closely linked to the Manga Shakespeare line is the schools’ website , sponsored by Self Made Hero. The aim is to make Shakespeare as accessible as possible and the creators succeed in providing truly valuable resources for all members of the learning community, whether students, parents or educators. Features include plot synopses, free online glossaries and a short biography of William Shakespeare. Information can be found regarding workshops for students and tips for teachers, as well as acting and costume competitions. In one of the shrewdest moves, the site also includes a link to the their very own social network , which allows readers to connect with one another, read ongoing production blogs and artists’ comments about the adaptation process and to see initial sketches, video and images connected with the Manga Shakespeare series as well as outside Shakespearean productions.

‘And, in the dark, a thought came to me’

With its graphic novel adaptations, Eye Classics intends to bring classic European literary works to an entirely new level. Drawing upon international literary and artistic talent, the individual works produced thus far provide an intriguing mix of the eclectic and the macabre; one can only wonder what kind of visual spectacles a graphic novel of Dorian Gray or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde might conjure. Featured writers include Franz Kafka, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Mikhail Bulgakov. Eye Classics also includes Nevermore, an anthology of short stories by Edgar Allen Poe. With illustrations from different artists accompanying each tale, the spine tingles and the blood runs cold imagining the dark interpretations of that shadowy, twilight mind.

‘Elementary,’ said he.

The newest sequence for Self Made Hero revolves around the quintessential detective, Sherlock Holmes . Somewhat personal for the company (their location is based in Upper Wimpole Street, only steps away from 221B Baker Street), this series intends great things, with the promise of releasing all four Holmes novels in full-color, graphic novel format. The first to appear will be The Hound of the Baskervilles , intended for release this month. A Study in Scarlet will appear in October, with The Sign of Four and The Valley of Fear emerging in 2010.

As a company, Self Made Hero is to be commended for its dedication in providing beautifully-illustrated adaptations of famous works in literature and for its determination to create graphic novels that can easily be explored by all members of the reading population.

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Written by
Heidi Polk
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Publisher, Graphic novel, and Selfmadehero