Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - interview with Alan Grant and Cam Kennedy
Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has spawned countless adaptations since its publication in 1885. The stage play ran for 20 years and there have been numerous film versions, with stars as diverse as Fredric March, Spencer Tracy and Michael Caine portraying the two-faced physician. Only last year, the six-part BBC drama Jekyll cast James Nesbitt as Tom Jackman, whose sadistic alter ego terrorises modern-day London.
The myth that has grown up around Stevenson’s ‘fine bogey tale’ has virtually eclipsed the original novella. Now, Edinburgh residents are being given the chance to revisit the classic text as the UNESCO City of Literature Trust unleashes its second One Book – One City citywide reading campaign.
The initiative aims to encourage the capital’s citizens to read Stevenson’s enduring thriller, whether independently or through libraries, schools and book groups. As with last year’s Kidnapped campaign, 10,000 free copies of a new paperback edition of the book, featuring sketches by world-renowned graphic artist Cam Kennedy and an introduction by author Ian Rankin, will be given away in schools and libraries around the city.
Meanwhile, Kennedy and his frequent collaborator, comic book writer Alan Grant, the ‘dream team’ behind last year’s warmly received Kidnapped graphic novel, have created four new graphic novel versions of Stevenson’s text, including Gaelic, Scots and modern text editions.
At first glance, Jekyll and Hyde would appear to contain all the ingredients for a compelling graphic novel: it’s shorter in length than Kidnapped and features a number of visceral set pieces, from the sickening opening scene in which Hyde tramples on a small child in the street, to the shocking transformation sequence. Yet, as Alan Grant explains, there are certain aspects of Stevenson’s tale that don’t lend themselves quite as easily to the comic book format.
‘Kidnapped was a much more linear story,’ he says. ‘Jekyll and Hyde hops around here and there between different points of view. Also, Stevenson’s endings aren’t really as dramatic as we would expect now; storytelling was a bit different in those days.’
Grant stresses that, while he may have pared down the world-famous text to its essential components, he has not rewritten the novel: ‘My brief was to be as faithful to Stevenson’s original as I possibly could, so I didn’t want to muck around with it by shifting the order of the scenes. I tried to use Stevenson’s words as far as possible – I’d say 99% of the words in both Kidnapped and Jekyll and Hyde are the author’s own.’
But a graphic novel is only partly about words, and Cam Kennedy’s chunky, hard-edged figures and energetic illustrations bring Stevenson’s portrayal of the duality of human nature to gritty, vivid life. Surprisingly, however, the writer and artist, whose 20-year working relationship has included collaborations on such classics of the genre as 2000AD, Outcasts and Batman, did not even meet to discuss the project.
‘The words came first,’ says Kennedy. ‘Alan did a good job of adapting the script, and managed to slip in a few scenes of movement, splitting up long scenes of two people talking into, say, five frames. I work as far as the eye is concerned. It’s down to me to open up the text so that people will say: “This looks interesting”. That has to be done through the drawings.’
Grant adds: ‘If Cam and I had created Jekyll and Hyde, we would get together and discuss characters and plot development but it’s not necessary for an adaptation. Anyway we’ve been working together for such a long time that we know and trust each other’s working methods.’
While Stevenson’s novel is ostensibly set in London, Grant feels the tale has been wisely chosen as the focus for this year’s Edinburgh City of Literature campaign. ‘It does seem a very Edinburgh story, particularly in light of things like the grave-robbers Burke and Hare and Deacon Brodie [the respectable 18th century Edinburgh councillor who led a double life as a burglar], but it could easily be a London story; the London Stevenson talks about is very recognisable.’
Kennedy feels there are echoes of the Jekyll and Hyde myth in the dual personalities of certain popular comic book characters. He says, ‘It’s almost like the beginnings of a dark superhero story like Batman.’
While both writer and artist enjoy free imaginative reign in dreaming up new adventures and adversaries for comic book heroes such as Judge Dredd, Grant admits to approaching adaptations of work by other writers with some trepidation.
‘As the adaptor I’m always anxious and nervous about tampering with the words of a master of the English language,’ he laughs. ‘You’re walking on eggshells all the time. With an original story you can just go for it: there’s no invisible Robert Louis Stevenson looking over your left shoulder saying, “You bastard! Don’t touch my work!”’
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Alan Grant and Cam Kennedy goes on sale on Thu 21 Feb.