Few authors have the savvy foresight of Diana Gabaldon.
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Outlander series fought for the rights to the graphic novel version of the book from the moment production companies began to vie for the rights to the story. Gabaldon knew that a graphic novel would be the perfect medium to explore another side of her characters.
Surprisingly, Disney gave Gabaldon her first literary break when they hired her to write comic book scripts (Galbadon and Nguyen, 2010, Introduction). Novel-writing was a sort of afterthought after Disney started recycling comic strips–and thus the time-crossed story of Jamie, Claire, and Frank came to be.
But what does a clever author do when she has the opportunity to recreate her story into a new medium? Well, the graphic novel adaptation of the first half of Outlander entitled
And of course, pave the way for the TV series by articulating the visual specifics of her main characters (check out her descriptions for the artist in the back of the graphic novel!).
The Exile is told more from Jamie’s perspective, although I felt that the graphic novel followed his godfather, Murtagh, more closely. The gorgeous art of illustrator Nguyen adds weight to the shift.
I have mixed feelings when it comes to point of view changes in adaptations of popular stories. The money-grabbing gender-switching Twilight 10th anniversary adaptation or the truly
awful different adaptation, errr… shortening of Fifty Shades of Grey to merely Grey. That being said, switching the point of view in an adaptation of a beloved story is a challenging and risky venture.
Gabaldon navigates this treacherous ground with skill.
The Exile provides the reader with more of an understanding of the Scottish perspective as a whole. I know the publishers sold the graphic novel like it was another “learn the leading-man’s thoughts!” text, but Gabaldon and her illustrator Nguyen accomplish so much more than that.
I never bonded with Murtagh in the book or even the TV series, but he’s a rather sympathetic character in the graphic novel. Gabaldon also provides a back story for Jamie’s protectiveness over Claire and answers why he seems to simply be drifting through Scotland at the beginning of the book. The character glimpses breath new life into her time-traveling historical romance fantasy.
Telling a story in a new medium also allows for creative license to emphasize different elements of the tale.
The Exile contains an undertow of humor not present in the book. Part of this addition is built off the traditions present in the graphic mediums, but another element remains opportunity to show the reactions of characters in a way that is impossible in a straight-up novel.
For example, let’s take a look at the scene when time-travelling Claire declares she is qualified to help a wounded Jamie because she’s a “nurse:”
“I’m a nurse, you see,” I explained, feeling somehow defensive.
Dougal’s eyes, and Rupert’s as well, dropped to my bosom and fastened there with a sort of horrified fascination. The exchanged glances, then Dougal looked back at my face.
“Be that as it may,” he said, raising his eyebrows at me. “For a wetnurse, you’d seem to have some skill at healing.” (Outlander, 20th Anniversary Ed., 45).
The tone is quite different, but the humor adds a reality that breaks through the seriousness of the story, and, in my opinion, provides a foundation for the television portrayals of the characters.
There’s a wonderful phrase I believe I stole from author Veronica Roth: In writing, you must “kill your darlings” in order to produce the best story.
That’s what I believe Gabaldon may have done when she first published Outlander because a character named Kenneth appears in the graphic novel.
Kenneth is yet another time-traveller who somehow ends up in 1743 from the 1960s and schemes with Geillis to kill the Chief MacKenzie and rewrite history for Scotland. Although he’s a fascinating character, I see why it would have been too much to keep him in the book, and why he made an appearance in the action-packed, humor-filled, Socttish-based graphic novel!
To sum up: POV-changing adaptations can be challenging. Especially, when another artist and medium are involved. However, Galbadon provides her readers with something completely refreshing in The Exile. Yet I believe she was only able to do so with a little cunning and fully embracing the form of the new medium.
WHUMP. KRAK. CRACK. FWUMPSs and all.
Gabaldon, D., & Nguyen, H. (2010). The exile: An outlander graphic novel. New York: Ballatine Books.
All images are under the copyright of The Exile and the artist Nguyen.