default article image

Shakespearean Tales Give Comics a Literary Touch

From Hamlet to The Tempest, the plays of William Shakespeare are still performed centuries after his death and have been adapted into many films. However, beyond the silver screen and the stage, comic books have also continued staging the Bard’s tales for readers and fans alike.

As with any classic novel or play, sooner or later they get adapted as a comic. Some of the first Shakespeare comic adaptations were in “Classics Illustrated” such as Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Here, writers and artists brought these stories to the paneled pages without losing the meaning and original dialogue.

Although “Classics Illustrated” ended, people still look to bring these timeless stories to life as comic books. The Shakespeare Comic Book Series has been one way that these tales have been turned into comics. According to, “The Shakespeare Comic Book Series was created in response to a simple question: How can we present serious literature to a generation of school students that is intensely visually aware but often reluctant to read? The answer was to offer the work of the world’s greatest writer in a popular format with a highly pictorial content. The Shakespeare Comic Book Series thus began life in 1999, created by Simon Greaves.”

The site also noted these comics have been featured in exhibits and used as teaching tools.

Comic book writers and artists have also adapted these plays as mangas with “Manga Shakespeare.” For those unfamiliar with manga, they are novella-sized comics from Japan that feature such series as “Bleach” and “Naruto.” Within these series, artists present rich, detailed characters and settings as writers offer work to keep the play’s stories and messages intact. According to, “‘The Manga Shakespeare’ editorial team is led by a leading Shakespeare scholar and an educational editor… the team is expert in making serious works of literature more accessible.”

Now, the books’ creative teams take liberties with their interpretations. Some might have a futuristic setting like “Manga Shakespeare: Julius Caesar” while “Manga Shakespeare: Macbeth” has an action-driven atmosphere (the cover has Macbeth wielding swords).

“Manga Shakespeare” also condensed these adaptations a bit for readers. The site also stated, “Plays in the ‘Manga Shakespeare’ series are abridged to allow teachers to focus on key scenes while following Shakespeare’s text.”

While Shakespeare adaptations are a popular approach to retell these famous tales, they aren’t the only way. Some writers and artists have found unique ways to develop tales centering around and/or on Shakespeare like “Kill Shakespeare” from IDW publishing by creators/co-writers Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery and artist Andy Belanger.

It was a 12-issue maxi series that featured Shakespeare heroes searching for the Bard to fight the menacing actions of his villains.

While talking to, Del Col and McCreery how the idea for “Kill Shakespeare” originated. Del Col said, “…We were joking about doing a Kill Bill video game but instead of trying to track down David Carradine, players would hunt ‘Bill’ Shakespeare with a version of his own characters as their avatar. We paused for a moment and then realized that a story that contained all of Shakespeare’s characters interacting with one another would be very interesting and could lead to all sorts of fascinating stories.”

McCreey said his inspiration for the series came after reading Hamlet and thinking whether Hamlet’s father was a worthy leader. “If that isn’t true, how does that affect Hamlet’s motives for revenge? That question really served as a springboard for us to play ‘What If’ with a host of Shakespearean canon…,” he said.

“Kill Shakespeare” went on to be nominated for Best New Series (Harvey Awards) and Best Outstanding Writing (Joe Shuster Nominee).

Other writers have also reinterpreted Shakespearean stories like Stan Lee, who, with writer Max Work and illustrators Terry Douglas and Skan Srisuwan, presented a new take on Romeo and Juliet with the graphic novel, “Romeo and Juliet: The War.”

From 1821 Comics, the story of two lovers from rival families is the same, but the setting and families are a bit different.

According to a synopsis on, “This is the story of… Two groups of superhuman soldiers who turn the Empire of Verona into the most powerful territory on earth. The MONTAGUES, powerful cyborgs made of artificial DNA, and the CAPULETS, genetically enhanced humans known for their speed and agility, work in tandem to destroy all threats to the city. With no one left to fight, the Montagues and Capulets find themselves a new enemy: each other.”

In addition to the graphic novel, a trailer was created to help market this version of Romeo and Juliet. Narrated by Lee with snippets of the art, it established the struggle between these two clans and the forbidden love to blossom.

So, whether ‘tis a faithful adaptation of Shakespeare or a new spin on his plays and characters, comic books show that writers and artists still honor these stories as the show goes on no matter the century.