A Heavy Book – Rickard Sisters
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A Heavy Book

Scarlett and I weren’t christened.

I think our mother was put off church by having a Bishop for a father. But we did get assigned ‘godparents’ of sorts. And Scarlett’s godfather used to send her a very handsome book every birthday – starting with hardback illustrated classics such as Peter Pan and The Water Babies, and then at some point in her mid-teens, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. I can remember the book being part of the furniture in her room. Being a hardback about four inches thick, it was very useful if we needed a heavy weight for pressing flowers or counterbalancing some scientific invention. I didn’t ever try read it, it looked difficult and there was an angry man on the front cover.

Years later, I had somehow picked up a vague notion of the story and the nature of the book. Perhaps I had heard bits of it on Radio 4 when they did it as a classic serial. I had certainly heard people talking about it, and how it had changed their outlook on life. I also had an idea that it was very long and rather a depressing read. I like long, sad books. So when Scarlett suggested it would make a great graphic novel, I was keen.

I knew it was incredibly relevant to our modern experience of austerity politics. I knew that the prose was long-winded and Edwardian, using description, repetition and rhetoric – where pictures could do more with less. And I knew it was one of those books that people love (I mean really love) and it would be near impossible to adapt without upsetting someone.

So I read it, and I read it again, and I listened to it on Audible, and I started to think about how it might be done. A year later we had a script – a kind of screenplay with the action divided into sensible chapters – and some sample pages of artwork to show. Scarlett’s affection and interest in historical architecture, furniture and design show in every drawing. Each of the many characters needed to be worked up into easily recognisable people, with their own homes and clothes and characteristic expressions. 

We were so motivated to be respectful and to keep the original work intact, we tried to retain the original dialogue but it was just far too long. The process of adaptation felt like taking an antique ballgown and hacking at it with gardening shears, then again with scissors, then nail clippers, then tweezers. Then seeing it’s still too long and doing it all again. But I’m beginning to believe the finished script might just become a stunning little dress, the kind you wear over and over again. I hope you’ll agree.

There is so much in the story that speaks to our day to day lives – whether it’s council corruption, creeping privatisation, insecure employment, exploitation, or the demonisation of poverty – and we know that this graphic adaptation will bring this classic to a new generation of people searching for a better way to organise our society. You can follow our progress on this blog on Twitter, and on Instagram. We are looking forward to the journey, and hope you’ll join us.

Sophie

May 2019

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