Adapting Shakespeare for Comics
As I suggested in the post announcing Family Ties, I really struggled with Shakespeare in school which meant writing an update of King Lear was a bit intimidating. So much so, in fact, that before starting, I bought a book called No Fear Shakespeare.
These books are great. I wish they’d been around when I was in high school. If so, I probably would have gotten an A in my AP literature class instead of… well… the embarrassing grade I actually brought home.
Anyway, these No Fear books are different than the yellow Cliff Notes booklets you may remember. As readers flip through the book, they can either read the original play on the left hand page or the “plain English” translation on the right. It’s a great way to read Shakespeare if you can convince yourself to use that right hand page as little as possible. In the end, the play wasn’t nearly as difficult as I remembered. And after several read-throughs, I sat down to begin planning the adaptation.
And this is where the trouble began…
While I was intent on leaving the plot and character arcs largely intact, I had a really hard time deciding how I was going to update the setting and the circumstances. After all, Lear deals with a family fighting over an aging king’s kingdom. While family issues are timeless, how was I going to write a modern re-telling that made sense? Some of the family infighting revolves around control of knights — not exactly something that translates to modern times easily.
For a while, I considered writing Family Ties as a superhero book. Yes, another superhero title for the comic book shelf. In the end, that felt like a cop-out. I liked the idea — still like it, actually — but I didn’t like that it was the easy way out. I wasn’t going to write it because I was dying to write a creator-owned superhero book — I was going to write it because it was an easy way to explain away some of the problems I was having. That didn’t seem like the best thing to do.
But then, my wife and I were watching a documentary about organized crime and inspiration struck. Amazingly, the hierarchy in a crime family is almost an exact parallel to the family dynamic in Lear. And while I wasn’t dying to do my own superhero book, I looooove gangster movies and have always wanted do a crime book of my own. Not only that, I knew I wanted to do another book with Noel, and his art is a great fit for a crime book. (Tumor, anyone?)
So after months of hitting my head against the wall, the details quickly began falling into place.
Lear became a crime boss.
His madness became dementia.
His kingdom became a criminal empire.
His knights became the soldiers in his crew.
His power-hungry daughters became captains within the organization.
His idealistic son became a young man hoping to make a life for himself outside of the family business.
Just like that, I finally had an answer for all those people who continued to ask, “I loved Broadcast, man. What’s next?”